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Michigan News

Berrien County Health Dept. ‘forced to rescind’ school mask order under threat of losing funding

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Jeanie Lindsay/IPB News
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Earlier this month, the Berrien County Health Department issued a face mask order for all pre-K through grade 12 indoor educational settings. Now, the health department says it’s being forced to rescind that order.

Certain language in Michigan’s 2022 state budget prevents local health departments from issuing COVID-19 orders without losing funding.

 

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has called the language unconstitutional and originally planned to veto it, but Berrien County legal advisors said it will still stand until proven otherwise in court. In the meantime, the Berrien County Health Department stands to lose $1.5 million from its budget if it doesn’t comply.

 

The department says it can’t risk losing that money, which funds community programs and services like immunizations, infectious disease control, sexually transmitted disease control and prevention, hearing screening, vision services, food protection, public water supply, private groundwater supply and on-site sewage management.

 

“It is appalling that local health departments in Michigan must choose between safeguarding school children from the threat of COVID-19 and future funding for our essential public health programs,” acting County Health Officer Courtney Davis said in a release. “Our hands are tied.”

 

The county has seen a 50 percent decrease in school-related COVID-19 cases and quarantines since the health department’s mask order took effect Sept. 6. Davis urged local school districts to enact their own mask requirements after the county’s order expires at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

 

In a release, Berrien County Board of Health chairwoman Peg Kohring said the board of health will support the reinstatement of the mask order if the courts deem the language unconstitutional.

 

Until then, Davis said the health department’s “hands are tied.”

 

Contact Gemma at gdicarlo@wvpe.org or follow her on Twitter at @gemma_dicarlo.

 

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