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Kalamazoo School Mask Mandate Defended

Paul Sancya
AP Photo

Kalamazoo County's public health officer says he has no regrets about ordering schools to adopt COVID-19 mask mandates.

Jim Rutherford's order includes elementary students and has drawn intense criticism by some parents. They say that puts Kalamazoo County out-of-step with the rest of the state. But Rutherford says that isn't so.

"Forty percent of the schools have implemented face mask mandates, which covers about 57 percent of the overall K-12 population in Michigan. So actually, the majority of the kids at this point in time have a mandate that they're under."

Rutherford says his decision to issue the mask order was not based on "political pressure." He says it followed data showing that cases COVID-19 are rising again in Kalamazoo County and nationally.

"Coupled with the designation of a high transmission of the disease as well as well as the high level of positive cases, as designated by the CDC."

The county's attorney says state law gives Rutherford the authority to issue the mask mandate in schools. It can't be vetoed by county commissioners.

Kim Kutzco is the county health department's infectious disease expert. She says more kids are getting COVID. And she says the current wave of the "Delta" variant hasn't peaked yet, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"For Michigan and the Midwest, they're models are projecting continued increases in case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths."

Kalamazoo County commissioners say they'll consider a resolution supporting Rutherford and the health department's handling of the pandemic at their next meeting.

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