Lansing Lines is presented in cooperation with MIRS, a Lansing-based news and information service.

Schools Should Mandate Mask Wearing When Classes Resume, Doctor Says

Schools should make mask wearing mandatory for students when they return to the classroom next month, Dr. Matthew Sims, director of Infection Prevention Research for Beaumont Health, said Aug. 10 in an online press conference.
“It’s just a danger that there is no reason to take the risk of making this optional,” Sims said.

He was speaking during an online press conference hosted by Beaumont Health.

Dr. Sandy Patel, pediatrician at Beaumont, said the hospital system has been admitting two to three COVID-positive pediatric patients each week for the past few months. Likewise, the system is seeing one to two mothers each week who are testing positive for COVID while preparing to deliver a newborn.

Children under 12 currently are not eligible for COVID vaccinations, they noted. Sims was asked if schools should mandate mask wearing.

“I really believe they should. We have this entire population of people who cannot be protected by the vaccine and they are going to make masking optional in a place where they can’t keep social distancing? Kids, as you know, are much more likely to hug and touch, get together at much closer range. You know, it’s just not safe,” Sims said.

An ordinary surgical mask is a very minimal inconvenience for the person wearing it, Sims contended. It is light and easy to breathe through.

“The fact of the matter is it just takes one or two cases to start ripping through schools. If you look at the schools where COVID got loose, it got loose throughout the school. And then those kids can take it home, spread it to their parents, spread it to their families, the grandparents who are older and maybe more vulnerable,” Sims said.

The State Board of Education spent hours taking public comment about two GOP-backed non-binding resolutions expressing opposition to mandatory vaccines and masks for students..

Legislation was introduced over the summer addressing mask mandates in schools.

Sen. Lana Theis’ (R-Brighton) SB 0601 would allow a child or a parent to request a waiver to any mask mandate a school might issue. Sen. Kim LaSata’s (R-Bainbridge Twp.) SB 0603 would ban the state from issuing a mask mandate for children to attend school.

Patel said the pediatric patients Beaumont is seeing might not even know they have COVID, because parents thought it was just a cold and they felt a little run down.

Then they present with a rash and have mucosal changes.

“They’re eyes are very red. And those kids, they go down very fast. And that is our fear. Those kids can go down fast without prompt diagnosis and treatment,” she said.

Asked when a vaccine for children under 12 might be available, Patel said she’s heard such a vaccine might be available by late fall or by the end of the year but has not received confirmation of that.

But parents are asking about a vaccine.

“They’re not comfortable sending their child to school, so parents are asking. Right now, we are just recommending masking, keeping safe (distance), good hand washing, and as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends, layering and having the staff be vaccinated, have everyone else around the child be vaccinated to protect them. Hopefully, by the end of this year, we will be able to vaccinate our younger population,” Patel said.

Sims led a study last year on the effectiveness of masking. It looked at hospital employees with direct contact with COVID patients.

“What our research showed, among other things, was that different employees within the hospital are at different risks to get COVID from patients, and that masking – even with surgical masks – reduced transmission,” Sims said. “The study also showed those who wore N-95 masks were better protected. Those who did get COVID after a known exposure while wearing an N-95 mask were more likely to be asymptomatic. This was felt to be due to lower levels of viral exposure.”

But for those that can get the vaccine, Sims urged them to do so.

“I’m sure you’ve heard, this has become a pandemic of the unvaccinated. The number of people who get COVID right now who are unvaccinated far, far, far outstrips the number who break through the vaccine and get COVID. It is a very small percentage, less than 1% of people who get the vaccine, when they are exposed to COVID get COVID. Now, out of those people who do get it, 95-plus percent of them have a very mild to asymptomatic presentation. Five percent or so can have symptoms and it is rare that those symptoms lead to hospitalization, and even rarer it leads to death . . . Almost all the deaths from COVID now are in the unvaccinated,” Sims said.

Vail: Gov’t Mandates Not The Way To Go For COVID Right Now

While universities and businesses are doing the right thing and requiring COVID-19 vaccinations, whether governments should start requiring the vaccine is an entirely different question, said Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail Aug. 9.
“It’s just more of a challenge when you start to talk about government mandates,” she said after a press conference with Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, urging parents to get their kids caught up on other vaccines.

Given the chance to say whether she’s advised Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to take stronger action against COVID-19 as cases begin to climb again, Khaldun said “it’s been an honor to advise the governor” and that “we are in constant communication” about the COVID-19 situation.

Khaldun added that “I know she’s got a tough job, but I continue to advise her as far as our guidance in what should be done.”

Pressed for whether Whitmer should be doing more from a statewide perspective on COVID-19, Khaldun responded Michigan isn’t where a lot of other states are as far as case rates and the percent positivity of cases.

According to The New York Times, while Michigan’s cases are up 156% over the past 14 days, the state’s 11 daily cases per 100,000 people is among the lowest in the country. There are four states with lower rates.

A recent state COVID-19 numbers report came back with 2,720 cases between Aug. 7 and Aug. 9, for an average of 906 per day, down slightly from an Aug. 6 report of 3,962 cases over three days.

There were also eight deaths added Aug. 9, to bring cumulative totals to 913,220 cases and 19,958 deaths.

“There’s no policy in my mind, there’s never a policy that is entirely off the table,” added Khaldun, who said that it’s her job to give Whitmer “the best public health recommendations to keep people safe.”

Whitmer said as recently as July 27 she wasn’t anticipating another COVID-19 emergency order – “not in the near future and maybe never again.”

Khaldun concurred that mandatory vaccinations are not something the state is looking at right now.

Asked why, Khaldun said that “public health is not just about the work of the public health department.” She noted that “businesses have an incredibly important role to play in preventing diseases” by protecting their employees and patrons.

Vail echoed that, saying the public health system includes hospitals, schools and businesses.

“Having that happen in other places other than resting it all on the shoulders of . . . the government or the health department . . . is actually a fairly good approach at this point in time,” she said.

Khaldun and Vail headlined a press conference at East Lansing’s Whitehills Elementary School to call attention to the fact that vaccination rates for young children have fallen below 70% in more than half of Michigan’s counties, and in some places, the rate is below 60%.

The 70% marker for vaccination rates is what doctors and public health experts typically say is needed for a minimum protection level against diseases, according to a press release.

On the COVID-19 vaccination front, 64.2% are at least partially vaccinated and 54.3% are fully vaccinated. Total vaccines administered statewide fell for the week ending Aug. 7, when that number was 44,157. For the week ending July 31, the number was 63,772, which had been an increase over the week prior.

National Poll: Majority Support Masks in Schools

By a 55%-41% margin, a national poll shows U.S. citizens favor masks in schools for staff, teachers and students regardless of their vaccination status, but just more than a third believe there should be more mask orders, 32% want fewer orders and 24% believe the current level of mandated masking is just about right.

Many businesses and other entities are grappling with whether to check on who has had the shot. The Quinnipiac University survey shows that 52% want the airlines to check passengers while 45% disagree.

Another 49% want proof at large sporting or entertainment events while 47% do not. And for the restaurant industry, 37% say check shots at the door but 59% don’t agree.

On the question of which employees should be forced to get the vaccine, 60% want health care workers inoculated while 35% oppose it.

Whitmer has said she is not considering mandatory shots for state government workers, and 42% agree with her on not mandating shots for government workers, but 53% do support it.

With several universities ordering shots, the respondents appear divided right down the middle with 48% favoring such a policy but 49% opposed. And it’s a 45%-50% support and opposition, respectively, on mandatory shots for business employees.

The poll, conducted July 27 to Aug. 2, of 1,290 U.S. adults nationwide and had a margin of error of 2.7%.

New COVID Vaccine Ad Announced

In other vaccination news today, the state announced a new TV ad featuring the story of a 27-year-old Michigan mom who—only days after giving birth to her second child—was hospitalized and almost lost her life to COVID-19, as part of the ongoing series that highlights why people got vaccinated against the virus.

The spot—launched by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Protect Michigan Commission—features the story of Kayleigh FOX and will air statewide on broadcast television, cable, connected TV, Hulu, YouTube, gas station TV and social media, according to a press release.

How MI’s COVID Cases Now Compare To April, November ’20 Surges

The number of COVID cases reported to the state increased again in the latest update Aug. 6, with 3,962 cases during a three-day period ending Aug. 6, amounting to an average of 1,321 over each of those three days.
The last time that any one day saw at least 1,321 cases reported was back on May 20, when 1,372 cases were reported to the state.

In addition to the 3,000-plus cases, the state added three deaths over the period this week, and that brought cumulative pandemic totals to 910,500 cases and 19,950 deaths.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has also indicated it’s adding one more day of data reports—up from the Tuesday and Friday schedule it started in July.

Going forward, data will be posted Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the main stat site.

According to the most recent MI Safe Start Map data, the state is seeing 50.9 daily cases per million people. That is up from a low 8.6 cases per million people recorded back on June 20.

However, the daily case rate recorded right now is nowhere near what it was during the April surge, which crested at 739.6 daily cases per million people on April 5.

Consider also the November 2020 surge, which peaked at 753 daily cases per million people on Nov. 9.

The test positivity rate right now, however, is at 6.4% over the weekly average. The percentage of tests coming back positive hasn’t been that high since late May, when it was at 6.5% as a seven-day average on May 21.

The 6% positivity rate is about double the 3% rate that health officials want to see.

The seven-day average for deaths, however, has stayed mostly flat, bouncing between four and five on any given day for most of July.

Weekly First-Dose COVID Shot Decline Stopped In July

The MI Shot To Win vaccine sweepstakes didn’t give Michigan’s vaccination numbers a drastic shot in the arm, but it may have slowed the trend of steeply declining vaccination shots.
Michigan’s COVID-19 vaccination numbers reviewed by MIRS shows the numbers of people receiving their vaccination shot was falling steeping up until the end of June, when the contest started. Michigan didn’t immediately hit the 70% first dose vaccination goal in the giveaway’s first month.

In fact, the percentage of Michigan’s partially vaccinated crept from 61.8% of the population 16 and older on July 1 to 63.8% as of Aug. 4.

The overall 206,000 first doses given in June—before the contest was announced—was still more than the 149,645 first doses administered in all of July. However, the number of vaccinated people did grow every week in July.

In announcing the latest round of sweepstakes winners today, the Protect Michigan Commission shared the following data.

For each of those four full weeks in July, the first-dose numbers totaled 28,770 (the week ending July 10), then 30,502 (July 17), then 35,952 (July 24) and then 41,150 (July 31).

In the three full weeks of June—before the contest was announced—the weekly first-shot doses went from 53,888 for the week ending June 12, to 43,461 for the week ending June 19 to 37,741 for the week ending June 26.

Brian Calley, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan, said during the awards announcement that “much has been said about whether or not the vaccines sweepstakes has made a difference” and that he’s seen “some overly-simplistic reviews that just look at immediate uptake rates.”

But Calley said that as more and more people get vaccinated, the pool of people remaining “are harder to reach and harder to convince” and so there “will be diminishing returns on all efforts” as the goal gets closer.

“That means we have to work harder and harder to get an increasingly smaller number of people,” he said.

And Kerry Ebersole Singh, executive director of the Protect Michigan Commission, said today that “every public health expert will tell you the middle of the summer always shows lower vaccination rates, lower than any other time during a year.”

Singh said the contest allowed the state to sustain its progress toward the 70% goal.

According to the press release, the sweepstakes contest received more than 2.4 million applicants for the grand prizes since it began, with nearly 105,000 young Michiganders signed up for the scholarship drawings.

Meanwhile, the state’s latest report of COVID-19 cases Aug. 3 showed 2,605 more cases from July 31, an average of 651 per day. The report from July 30—that covered three days—indicated there had been an average of 750 new cases over those three days.

On July 27—when the report again encompassed four days—the average cases per day was 441.

The report from Aug. 3 added 26 deaths, and overall, Michigan’s case count since the beginning of the pandemic went to 906,538 and deaths went to 19,947.

Universal Indoor Masking Recommended For All School Staff, Students

The state passed along federal guidance that is recommending “universal indoor masking” for all school staff and students regardless of vaccination status earlier this month.

That’s the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was incorporated in the latest Michigan Department of Health and Human Services guidance on COVID-19 protocols for schools.

The document noted the universal masking recommendation “is crucial to allowing students to maintain in-person learning.” The CDC is requiring masks on public transportation, regardless of a person’s vaccination status.

The CDC is also recommending social distancing between students in classrooms in addition to the masking.