'Our State is On Fire': Michigan Group Calls for Schools to Require Masks Amid COVID Surge

A Michigan parent group reiterated calls Tuesday for the state and counties to require face masks in schools to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Kathleen Lucas, a parent from Ottawa County, wrote in a statement posted on Facebook from the Michigan Parent Alliance for Safe Schools that the "state is on fire, because too many of those in power have not used that power to keep us from getting to this point.

"Our children and educators, and our health care workers and those who need their care, are suffering needlessly due to this dereliction of duty."

The Michigan Parent Alliance for Safe Schools noted in the statement that over two dozen school districts or charter schools, as well as four universities, recently shifted to online learning because of issues with staffing and attendance. A face mask order, however, could "preserve schools' ability to provide in-person learning, and preserve hospitals' ability to care for those needing all types of acute care," the statement said.

"Mask-related orders could also help workplaces avoid massive disruption, and slow the spread of coronavirus to vulnerable members of the community," it added.

Mask mandates in K-12 school districts covered 53 percent of the state's students as of last week. The figure was a decrease from the percentage of students who had been required to wear masks under some expired orders, which had been linked to kids ages 5 to 11 gaining eligibility for the vaccine.

Among Michigan residents ages 5 to 19, one-third are fully vaccinated.

A petition created by the Michigan group urging state leaders to impose an indoor mask mandate had gained more than 2,100 signatures by Tuesday afternoon.

Michigan COVID Patient
A Michigan parent group reiterated calls Tuesday for the state and counties to require face masks in schools to curb the spread of COVID-19. Above, U.S. Army Critical Care Nurse Captain Edward Rauch Jr. (left) tends to a COVID-19 patient on a ventilator at Beaumont Hospital in Dearborn, Michigan, on December, 17, 2021. Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images

Michigan's record high COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations could peak in late January or early February before beginning to drop, state health officials said Tuesday, while urging residents to help control the height of the crest.

"We have a choice to make: Do we want to work on bringing that peak down or do we just want to let this Omicron surge explode?" said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, the state's chief medical executive, who estimated that the variant accounts for around 90 percent of infections in some regions.

Health leaders, who are reluctant to reinstate restrictions or masking mandates, continued to implore people to voluntarily get vaccinated, get a booster shot if eligible, wear a well-fitting mask in public and avoid large gatherings.

They should upgrade to an N95 mask or wear two masks that fit well, said Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Those who are sick but not in need of emergency medical care should avoid the emergency room and instead go to an urgent care or their physician and get tested at home or at a test site.

The number of hospital patients with the coronavirus, now roughly 5,000, could rise to around 8,000 under the most pessimistic scenario or increase slightly under the most optimistic model. The figure is being closely watched because hospitals already "are under immense strain," Hertel said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Michigan COVID
State officials said on January 11, 2022, that Michigan's record-high COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations could peak in late January or early February before beginning to drop. Above, fans make their way toward the Breslin Center where they have to show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test to enter prior to a basketball game between the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Michigan State Spartans on January 5, 2022, in East Lansing, Michigan. Rey Del Rio/Getty Images