Face Masks for Fall?

Neither the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services nor any other governmental agency has yet issued an order requiring students or staff to wear face masks for the upcoming school year. MDHHS, however, has released Interim Recommendations for Operating Schools Safely When There is COVID-19 Community Transmission. One of those recommendations includes individuals “correctly and consistently using well-fitted masks that cover the nose and mouth” within the school setting.

The CDC echoes that recommendation for face masks. On July 27, 2021, the CDC released Interim Public Health Recommenda­tions for Fully Vaccinated People, which recommended schools re­quire universal masking for all “teachers, staff, students, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status.” This recommendation varies slightly from its previous recommendation that school officials may consider imposing a universal face mask mandate, regard­less of vaccination status, based on one or more of the following factors:

  • Having a student population that is not yet eligible for vaccination (i.e., schools with grades PreK-6).
  • Experiencing an increasing or high COVID-19 transmission rate within the school or the surrounding community.
  • Experiencing increasing community transmission of a variant that is spread more easily among children and adolescents or is resulting in more severe illness from COVID-19 among children and adolescents.
  • Lacking a system to monitor the vaccine status of students or teachers and staff.
  • Encountering difficulty monitoring or enforcing mask policies that are not universal.
  • Being aware of low vaccination rate within the student, family, or teacher/staff population, or within the community.
  • Responding to community input that many teachers, staff, parents, or students will not participate in in-person learning if mask use is not universal.

The CDC cautions that a face mask mandate, if imposed, should not apply to children under 2 years of age and should make excep­tions for people who cannot wear a mask, or cannot safely wear a mask, because of a disability.

The CDC’s interim recommendations do not alter its January 29, 2021 Order, which requires face masks for those traveling on “public transportation,” which the CDC specifically states includes “school buses.” Accordingly, “passengers and drivers must wear a mask on school buses, including on buses operated by public and private school systems.” This requirement does not apply to people “who cannot safely wear a mask.” Importantly, the COVID-19 Response and Reopening Liability Assurance Act provides immunity to tort claims to schools so long as they comply with state and federal laws and orders, including the CDC’s January 2021 Order.

We will keep you updated with any further developments. Until then, school officials have discretion whether to require face masks in schools this year, but must continue to require masks on school buses. We continue to recommend that you consult with your local public health department to determine the most appropriate mitigation measures to take in your geographic area.