Kalamazoo County recommending masks in schools


KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Kalamazoo County is recommending all residents wear a mask while indoors in public, as well as in schools.

The recommendation from the Kalamazoo County Health & Community Services Department comes after the Center for Disease Control and Preventions recommended all teachers, staff and students wear masks at K-12 schools. The CDC also recommended everyone wear masks indoors while in public in places of substantial level of coronavirus transmission.

“This is a very fluid situation. What’s happening now is different from two weeks ago and will most likely be different from what it is today, two weeks from now. We just have to be adaptable and flexible,” said Kalamazoo County Health Department Officer Jim Rutherford.”

Rutherford says right now, the delta variant makes up about 80% of new cases in Kalamazoo County. He says the county is also dealing with some breakthrough cases, which refers to vaccinated individuals that went on to contract COVID-19.

“We understand the frustration brought on by the length of the pandemic and with the changing recommendations,” Rutherford said in a Tuesday release. “As more is learned about the virus and the new variants, we must change our recommendations accordingly. We know that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective, and the best defense against the virus. We encourage county and community leaders, businesses, and schools to join us in urging all residents to get vaccinated.”

Rutherford says reverting to methods used during the height of the pandemic, such as masking and social distancing, can significantly slow down cases. He says it’s especially important in schools where students under age 12 still cannot get vaccinated.

Prior to the health department’s Tuesday announcement, Portage Public Schools said masks will be optional this upcoming school year. Immediately following the issuance of the new guidance, the district said it was too early to know if things will change before the start of school. Kalamazoo Public Schools issued guidance a few weeks ago that all students will be required to wear masks in their buildings. Parents remain mixed on the idea.

“She needs to be back in school. A lot of activities, socializing has been hectic for us,” parent Lorrie Brunious said.

Brunious says her student has been out of school for the entirety of the pandemic. She says sending her student for in-person learning is important, but protecting them from the virus is her biggest concern.

“Mask up. That’s all I have to say. This is a dangerous virus,” Brunious said. “The new variant is coming out and children under 12 cannot get vaccinated.”  

Some parents say they will follow whatever rules are put in place, but wearing a mask should be a personal choice. 

“If they have to get masks back, it’s whatever you know. I think it’s a good thing,” said Steven Simington, who has three students in Vicksburg Community Schools. “I think it’s up to the individual person really. I don’t think anybody should be able to tell you, you have to wear a mask — the vaccine too.”

The county anticipates the mask policy will vary district to district.

“We (are) on the side of caution, and caution tells us that masks work. The mitigation strategies that schools employed last year were effective. They kept kids in school,” Rutherford said.  

Currently, 62.7% of Kalamazoo residents 12 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. That’s higher than the 58.2% of all Michigan residents 12 and older who have received at least one dose. 

Currently, 62.7% of Kalamazoo residents 12 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. That’s higher than the 58.2% of all Michigan residents 12 and older who have received at least one dose. 

The county is classified at the substantial community transmission level, with a test positivity rate of 7% from July 24 to July 30.

Across Michigan, there has been 2,605 new cases and 26 new COVID-19 related deaths reported over the last four days.

Those who would like to get a COVID-19 vaccine can do so at the county health department, located at 311 E. Alcott Street in Kalamazoo. It is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and no appointment is needed.

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