Six of the state's most populous counties, including Oakland and now Wayne, have joined the growing list of places mandating masks in schools, putting the number of Michigan public school students whose faces will be covered in class at 54 percent, the AP reports.
Macomb executive Mark Hackel said last week that the county would not require masks and leave the decision instead to individual school districts within it.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who previously instated a statewide mask mandate and whose health department now holds that power, has opted to leave the decision to districts. Public health experts are warning of a fall surge should more not be done to prevent spread. Cases are on the rise with the more virulent Delta variant the dominant strain and just 65 percent of residents over 16 inoculated with at least one vaccine dose.
Masking in schools is seen as essential because children under 12 are not vaccinated. The state's top epidemiologist tells AP that masking reduces the chance of being infected in school by 40% to 75%.
The state Department of Health and Human Services, in collaboration with the University of Michigan School of Public Health, has used outside research to estimate how long it would take for there to be a greater than 50% chance of transmission if one infectious child attends a class of 25 elementary students.
With complete masking, it is 120 hours. It drops to 24 hours with imperfect masking and to three hours with no masking. The time until transmission is less for high school students.
Though the masking-in-schools debate has been fraught — an anti-masker in the Traverse City area this weekend punched a reporter after the district issued a mandate, and there was a separate flare-up in Birmingham — public opinion appears generally on the side of public health guidance. Fifty-eight percent of Americans favor requiring masks for students, according to an AP/NORC poll.