County health department plans to roll back school mask mandate by Dec. 22

GENESEE COUNTY — Most Genesee County students will no longer be required to mask up in school by Christmas break, per updated guidance from the Genesee County Health Department.

Dr. Pamela Hackert, medical health officer for Genesee County, announced on Monday that she is planning to scale back the county’s mask mandate for schools starting on Dec. 22. Following that date, the county will no longer require students ages five and older to wear masks in classrooms or other activities in educational settings. School staff and volunteers will also not be required by the county to wear masks indoors.

Hackert said that the availability of COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5-11 has made it possible for the county to loosen its mask mandate. Emergency use of Pfizer’s COVID- 19 vaccine for that age group was approved by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Nov. 2.

“Clinical testing found that the Pfizer vaccine was 90.7 percent effective against the virus in children ages 5-11, and no serious side effects were detected in the study,” Hackert said. “We (the health department) and other local providers have vaccines available for children ages 5 and older, and there is no shortage of vaccines.”

Like the adult version, the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 requires two shots, given at least three weeks apart. The dose is approximately a third of what adults receive.

Because COVID-19 vaccines are not available for children ages four and below, the county’s mask mandate will continue to be in place indefinitely with the same guidelines in educational settings for students under five. Masks will also continue to be required for all students and staff on school buses until Jan. 29, per a CDC-issued federal mandate.

Hackert originally issued the mask mandate for grades K-6 on Aug. 12 and expanded the order to all K-12 students and school staff on Sept. 7. At the time, she said that the mandate would remain in place until six weeks after a COVID-19 vaccine was made available for children ages 5 to 11.

Genesee County was the first county in the state to issue a countywide school mask mandate.

Although the mask mandate is expected to be lifted by Dec. 22, Hackert said that the health department will continue to strongly recommend that school districts continue universal masking for students, staff and visitors until weekly COVID-19 transmission rates drop below 50 cases per 100,000 people.

“Vaccine availability was the key piece of our reason to roll back the mask mandate,” she said, “But we want to make sure that masking indoors, social distancing, frequent handwashing, frequent testing for potentially exposed students and care to ensure good ventilation in classrooms continues to be the norm. Students should also stay home even if they have mild symptoms.”

Genesee County is currently listed as “high risk” for community transmission, with the health department recording over 300 COVID-19 positive cases per 100,000 people per week.