Michigan officials on Friday ordered children as young as two to wear masks in a bid to curb the rise in COVID-19 cases the state has seen in recent weeks.
Under the previous version of the state’s Gatherings and Mask epidemic order, children under five were exempt from masking requirements.
“Expanding the mask rule to children ages two to four requires a good faith effort to ensure that these children wear masks while in gatherings at childcare facilities or camps,” the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.
The expanded mandate, which takes effect on April 26, follows guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), according to the state.
Elizabeth Hertel, Michigan’s health director, said the expanded mandate was an example of the “smart health policies and mitigation measures” that the state has employed to try to stem the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
“This includes the requirement to wear a mask while in public and at gatherings, limits on indoor residential social gatherings larger than 15 people with no more than three households, and expanded testing requirements for youth sports. Additionally, the most important thing people can do right now is to get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine to protect themselves and their families, and help us eliminate this virus once and for all,” she said in a statement.
The mask and gathering order is now in place through May 24.
Dr. Matthew Hornik, president of the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said that wearing a mask “significantly reduces the spread of infection and should be part of the comprehensive strategy to reduce COVID-19-including for children age two and up.”
“Use of masks does not restrict oxygen in the lungs even in children, it is recommended to wear a mask with layers to filter droplets effectively,” he added.
Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, also praised the expansion of the order, in part because officials did not force restaurants to shutter for a third time.
“It is incumbent upon all of us—operators and guests alike—to do our part to act responsibly so that we can quickly return to a quality of life that includes dining and travel opportunities for everyone,” Winslow said in a statement.
Critics noted that both Hertel and Tricia Foster, a top aide to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, recently returned from out-of-state vacations. Whitmer has called the criticism “partisan hit jobs” and said officials can do what they want on their personal time “as long as they are safe.”
Parents told WDIV that forcing their toddlers to wear masks would probably not work.
“Very high chance they’re gonna take it off, drop it. It’s gonna get dirty, likely, if it lands on the floor and then they’re supposed to put it back on their face,” said Tiffany Teal. “I don’t expect him to keep it on all day. I’m not going to force it too much and make him upset.”
Michigan saw the COVID-19 positivity rate, or the percentage of people who get tested and test positive, increase for eight consecutive weeks before a recent decline. The metric remains up 390 percent from mid-February and higher than the previous peak of 14.4 percent seen in December last year.
Approximately 18.8 percent of hospital beds across the state are occupied by COVID-19 patients, down from 19.6 percent on Dec. 4, 2020.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on April 12 recommended Michigan impose harsh measures to curb the surge in virus cases.
“The answer to that is to really close things down to go back to our basics, to go back to where we were last spring—last summer—and to shut things down, to flatten the curve,” she told a virtual briefing.
But the Biden administration has refused to send more COVID-19 vaccine doses. Whitmer has said that’s the best method to respond to the crisis.
The state is also urging the federal government to send more therapeutic antibody treatments like Regeneron Pharmaceuticals’ REGEN-COV and other treatments for COVID-19 such as Remdesivir.
Whitmer told a briefing this week that people should make appointments to get vaccinated as soon as possible and keep wearing masks, social distancing, and washing their hands.
As of Friday, 29.5 percent of Michigan residents 16 and older were fully vaccinated against the CCP virus.
“I know how hard this year has been on all of us. I know we’re all feeling pandemic fatigue, but we got to remember we’re in this together,” Whitmer said. “It’s going to take hard work to beat this virus, but Michiganders are used to hard work and we can beat this virus together.”