Local health departments weigh mask mandate options

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Following a ruling from the Michigan Supreme Court, a debate on wearing masks is back in the spotlight.

The court ruled Friday in a 4-3 decision that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s use of a 1945 law to extend executive orders was unconstitutional

Following the ruling, two Michigan counties, Ingham and Oakland, issued their own local mask mandates. While no West Michigan health departments have issued similar mandates, some say they are now entertaining the idea. 

“Many businesses already have these policies in place and we know it helps slow the spread of disease, so we have a lot of community members and businesses asking us to continue with these mandates,” said Kristina Wieghmink with Ottawa County Health Department.

Wieghmink says while COVID-19 cases and deaths have remained relatively low throughout the pandemic, the county recently saw a spike in cases linked to the return of Grand Valley State University students. She says it will be important that people remain vigilant over the next several weeks, despite law.

“The science does still show us these disease preventions work and we want to make sure that we are putting that message out there and are encouraging others to do so,” Wieghmink said.

Muskegon County health officials say they are not considering a mandate at this time but have similar concerns about people letting their guard down.

“We’ve gotten some reports that some community members have visited places of business and they have already relaxed their safe guards and they are very concerned,” said Kathy Moore with Muskegon County Public Health.

Moore says they are encouraging businesses to continue requiring masks.

“Please stay the course. Mandate or no mandate: It’s working for us. We’re not out of this yet, so we really want to continue these. Out of an abundance of caution, please continue these precautionary measures,” Moore said. 

Health departments in Kent, Kalamazoo and Barry counties say they are also asking people to continue heeding medical advice. They say to prevent spikes, they’re asking people to increase hand washing, wear a mask in public spaces, limit gatherings and social distance.

“The KCHD is confident Kent County residents will continue to take the steps necessary to place their families, friends, and coworkers at the least possible risk for contracting COVID-19,” said Dr. Adam London with the Kent County Health Department in a statement.

All of the health officials News 8 crews spoke with Monday say it is critical people continue to follow the science to keep COVID-19 cases and deaths to a minimum.

“It’s going to boil down to our personal responsibility and just watching out for each other and just staying vigilant that we don’t spread COVID-19,” said Wieghmink.

On Monday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services revived several of the same rules the governor had in place with its own emergency order.

Local health departments say they’re awaiting further guidance from state officials over the next few days and will move accordingly after they receive it.

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