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“Our hands are tied”: Berrien County forced to rescind school mask mandate or face defunding

If the County does not rescind the mandate, they will face a loss of nearly $1.5 million in funds, according to the new state budget signed by Gov. Whitmer.
Credit: Seventyfour - stock.adobe.com

BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. — The Berrien County Health Department is being forced to rescind a public health order requiring the use of face masks in schools from Kindergarten through 12th grade. If not, they will face a loss of nearly $1.5 million in budget.

The order will be officially rescinded by 11:59 p.m. Wednesday night.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the 2022 state budget to avoid a loss of funding for essential local public health services from other bills. Now, any health department that issued an emergency order to fight COVID-19 will be impacted financially.

Gov. Whitmer said Wednesday that the bill was “unconstitutional.” However, Berrien County legal counselors said the order stands until ruled otherwise in a court of law.

The Berrien County Health Department cannot risk losing the funds, they said.

Mask mandates can still be enacted by local school districts and individual schools.

“It is appalling that local health departments in Michigan must choose between safeguarding school children from the threat of COVID-19 and the future funding for our essential public health programs,” said Courtney Davis, acting BCHD health officer. “Our hands are tied. We make this decision citing grave concerns over the health of our community.”

“We strongly urge all local school boards of education and school leaders to continue to align with sound public health practice and to immediately enact a requirement for universal masking within their districts and institutions,” she said.

Peg Kohring, Berrien County Board of Health chairwoman said, “When this unconstitutional language is deemed as illegal in a court of law, and if the data still supports the need for a public health order requiring masks in pre-K through grade 12 settings because of ongoing high transmission, the Board of Health fully supports the local health officer to reinstate this order to keep students and teachers in the classroom.”

Since the mask mandate was put in place on Sept. 6, the Health Department noted over 50% decrease in new case numbers and quarantines in area schools.

BCHD Medical Director Dr. Rex Cabaltica said: “The science is clear: masks are an effective layer of protection to mitigate against the spread of COVID-19, especially when indoors in a congregate setting, like our schools.”

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