Counties Removing School Mask Mandates
Still, a recommendation is different from a requirement, and it is unclear how schools will respond. On Friday, the Oakland County Health Department, the Washtenaw County Health Department, the Health Department of Northwest Michigan and the Wayne County Health Department became the latest to announce the rolling back of mask mandates.
On Thursday, Ingham County and the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department said they are rescinding their mask mandates for schools.
Wayne County held out until late Friday before announcing it, too, would be rescinding its mask mandate effective February 28. There also is a mask and vaccine mandate in the Detroit Public Schools Community District under school district orders. The city of Detroit is not under the purview of the Wayne County Health Department.
The moves come the same week as conversative groups and lawmakers have upped their calls for officials to remove mask requirements for children in particular. Nationwide, several Democratic-led states have loosened mask requirements for schools and public settings.
Michigan does not have any statewide mandates, but the Department of Health and Human Services recommends universal masking in schools. The health departments removing the requirements are still recommending masks.
But, they say, it is time to move away from mandates toward personal responsibility. Those 5 and older can get vaccinated, as well. While the vaccine for children under 5 was expected to receive emergency authorization soon, it appeared to be delayed on Friday.
"We are at a point in this pandemic in which public health strategies will begin to shift more towards personal responsibility as we learn to live with COVID-19 long-term," Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said in a statement. "As a public health agency, we will continue to support local school districts by recommending evidence-based public health measures, educating on current guidance and practices, and making recommendations for staying safe and healthy."
Ingham County is urging schools to maintain strict masking policies.
In Oakland, the county said its test positivity has dropped nearly 50 percent for COVID-19 during the week ending February 6 declined 40 percent, and the seven-day case average has declined 83 percent from its peak in early January. Hospital admissions in Oakland County for adults dropped 72 percent since the peak on January 10 and declined 67 percent for children since the highest admissions on January 8.
"I am grateful for our school leadership who has worked diligently with us on measures to keep students in schools, and our parents who are vaccinating their kids to keep them safe," Oakland County’s Director of Health and Human Services Leigh-Anne Stafford said in a statement. "We are now at a place in the pandemic where an emergency health order should be replaced by individual action to protect ourselves, especially masking in public and getting vaccinated. As the local public health agency, we are committed to continuing our support of local school districts by providing best practices, current COVID-19 data, and recommendations for staying safe and healthy."
The Oakland health department said it recommends masking indoors. Washtenaw County is also strongly recommending universal masking in schools. The northern Michigan counties do as well.
"Local health orders have been necessary during the pandemic, and these orders have helped protect in-person learning, critical health care capacity, and overall health," Jimena Loveluck, health officer with Washtenaw County Health Department, said in a statement. "We are in a different place now. We can offer more flexibility while we continue to provide appropriate guidance and work with our local schools to protect health, prevent spread, and maintain in-person learning as safely as possible."
Oakland and Washtenaw’s mask mandates will end February 28, Ingham’s on February 19 and the northern Michigan counties on February 17.
The Michigan Parent Alliance for Safe Schools said in a statement it welcomes the sharp decline in cases, but notes the state is still above the high rate of transmission established by the federal government, that only 26 percent of children between 5 and 11 are vaccinated and the vaccine for those under 5 is not yet available.
"This rapid, dramatic rush for ‘exit ramps’ from masking have not been adequately explained, and seem to ignore the continued risk faced by so many," MIPASS member Jennifer Tuksal of Rochester Hills said. "At the same time, no one is talking about what ‘on ramps’ they will use to determine if masks need to be worn again in schools, whether it’s in the next few weeks or when a new more contagious variant emerges."
House Appropriations Chair Considering Ways Forward on ‘Fair’ Tax Cuts
House Appropriations Chair Rep. Tom Albert on Friday said he is open to multiple tax cut proposals that he said would be broader and benefit a larger portion of the population than what Governor Gretchen Whitmer proposed.
Ms. Whitmer is proposing a tax cut for certain retirees and low-income workers.
During Michigan Public Television’s "Off the Record," Mr. Albert (R-Lowell) said the state has north of $4 billion in a surplus of state funding, with $800 million at least in ongoing funds.
He said specific proposals – and it was not an exhaustive list, he said – could include an income tax rate rollback, increasing the personal exemption, property tax relief and commercial personal property tax relief.
"I like idea of increasing the personal exemption," Mr. Albert said. "You could do that for everyone. … That is an interesting way to go."
Further, Mr. Albert said increasing the personal exemption could be beneficial to those with lower incomes specifically.
Democrats historically have embraced increasing the personal exemption instead of cutting the income tax rate because it provides far more benefit to lower-wage earners than a rate cut.
Mr. Albert also said Ms. Whitmer should end her bonding program for roads.
"I think it is a ridiculous policy and it’s extremely expensive," he said.
Mr. Albert, who called governor’s budget recommendation this week a spending spree, would not explicitly say it was a move to help her reelection campaign.
"I’ll put it this way, her polling numbers are through the floor right now and she is doing what she can," he said. "If you look, her behavior a year ago is completely different than what it is right now."
Renamed Agency to Handle Marijuana, Hemp Regulations
Ms. Whitmer signed Executive Order 2022-1, which is set to take effect on April 13, 2022, to rename the agency and move hemp regulation from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
"Consolidating multiple government functions into the newly named Cannabis Regulatory Agency will help us continue growing our economy and creating jobs," Ms. Whitmer said in a statement. "And to be blunt – safe, legal cannabis entrepreneurship, farming, and consumption helps us put Michiganders first by directing the large windfall of tax revenue from this new industry to make bigger, bolder investments in local schools, roads, and first responders."
Additionally, the order says, the changes will allow for effective and efficient administration and enforcement of state laws regarding cannabis. The expertise within the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development necessitates its continued regulation of the cultivation of hemp.
Under the order, the Cannabis Regulatory Agency will license and regulate processor-handlers of hemp. MDARD will handle the cultivation of industrial hemp.
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Marijuana News, Updates, & Articles of Interest
House Bill 5706, sponsored by Representative Roger Hauck, who also happens to Chair the Committee on Regulatory Reform, will have a hearing in that committee this week on Tuesday Feb 15th at 10:30AM.
House Bill 5706 sets up the parameters that would allow the marijuana regulatory agency to contract with Indian tribes regarding the operation of tribal marihuana businesses.
DCD will continue to monitor this and other pertinent marijuana bills and provide updates as necessary to our clients.
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