Mandate in place through January 28
ST. CLAIR COUNTY — A mask mandate is now in place for students and staff at all schools in St. Clair County, including Capac Community Schools.
Last week, Dr. Annette Mercatante, Medical Health Officer of the St. Clair County Health Department, issued a public health order requiring masks be worn in K-12 educational settings, starting Monday, January 3, when classes resumed following the winter break. The order is in effect for four weeks through Friday, January 28.
Masks have not been required in school settings since the 2020-2021 school year concluded under either a local or state mandate.
“Given the looming threat of the Omicron variant on top of the already high case rates within the community, it is prudent to take preemptive action now to ensure in-person learning continues within our schools” stated Dr. Annette Mercatante. Medical Health Officer.
“We understand how difficult virtual schooling has been on both students and parents throughout the pandemic which is why we are putting mitigation strategies in place to reduce the impact. It is clear that strong recommendations are not adequate to compel the level of compliance needed to mitigate the spread of this virus, which is why a temporary order is needed until the full impacts of Omicron are clarified.”
In a press release, the health department noted that the order is allowable per the Michigan Public Health Code (MCL 333.2451 and 333.2453, R. 325.175(4), and MCL 333.2226(d)) which authorizes public health officers to “take actions and make determinations necessary or appropriate to carry out the local health department’s functions to protect the public health and prevent disease.”
Requirements of the order are as follows:
•Educational institutions shall ensure that children in grades K-12 consistently and properly wear a facial covering (mask) while inside any closed building or structure.
•Educational institutions shall ensure that all persons, regardless of vaccination status, providing service to any child in K-12 settings, properly and consistently wear a facial covering while inside any building or structure of the institution.
Exceptions to the order include:
•Persons in the act of eating or drinking.
•Persons outside if not engaged in activities involving direct physical contact.
•Persons under the age of five years; however, supervised masking is strongly recommended
•Persons engaged in Pre-kindergarten programs or performing arts/athletics. Masking for such activities will be at the discretion of individual schools/districts, although highly encouraged.
•Students with developmental conditions of any age attending school, although supervised masking is encouraged.
•Teachers who are working with children who are hard of hearing or with students with developmental conditions who benefit from facial cues. These teachers or staff must be vaccinated or comply with masking directive.
•A person with a disability who cannot wear a mask, or cannot safely wear a mask, because of the disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 42 U.S.C 12101 et seq.) and Michigan Persons with Disabilities Act.
“We have to learn to be smart about prevention and early mitigation, rather than reactive,” Mercatante added.
“Reducing the number of cases before it’s a huge problem makes more sense than waiting until everything is out of control. The introduction of Omicron into our community on the heels of the Delta variant could make for a perfect storm, taxing our already limited resources. We know that masks reduce COVID-19 transmission, and less transmission means less serious illness and death. Even a single life saved is worth the effort of this simple, safe, and inexpensive intervention. It is the ‘low hanging fruit’ that needs to be used now.”
Updates are available on the health department website www.scchealth.co and on social media @scchdmi.