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School mask mandates in some Michigan counties have expiration dates now that kids' COVID vaccine is available

Kids in classroom with masks on
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Some mask mandates are tied to the availability of vaccines for kids.

The clock is ticking on public health orders requiring students and school staff to wear masks in several Michigan counties.

The orders are tied to the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine for children aged five to eleven. In Kalamazoo County, the mask mandate for kids eleven and under will lapse six weeks after the pediatric COVID vaccine became available. In Kent and Ottawa counties, they’ll lapse sixty days after that date.

Dr. Matthew Hornik, President of the Michigan chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the soundness of that idea will depend on how many kids in that age group get vaccinated, and how quickly.

“Until a decent amount of kids can be vaccinated and have been vaccinated, there still could be significant spread,” Hornik said. “There may not be, but there still could be significant spread going on.”

“I understand why they’re doing it. But that’s assuming that enough people are going to be vaccinated in that age group to make an effect in that time frame.”

Hornik said immunization is a key piece of the public health response to COVID, but other mitigation strategies are often necessary. He said public health officials should also consider the level of spread in communities before letting mask orders lapse.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics both recommend universal masking in schools, regardless of vaccination status, unless community levels of transmission are low to moderate.

In Michigan, K-12 schools continue to report more COVID outbreaks than any other setting. There were 104 new school-related outbreaks in the past week.