Southwest Michigan students are heading back to school this week. And amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, some districts are requiring face masks.
Benton Harbor Area Schools are requiring masks for all students, teachers and staff. So are St. Joseph Public Schools — the board voted unanimously last week to implement a universal mask mandate.
But other Berrien County districts have remained mask-optional, including Niles, Lakeshore, Brandywine, Berrien Springs, River Valley and New Buffalo.
According to the health department, Berrien County is currently experiencing a steep rise in COVID-19 cases and high rates of community transmission. The county was averaging 35 new cases per day on Friday.
During a Wednesday update, county medical director Dr. Rex Cabaltica urged parents to vaccinate children over age 12 and encouraged indoor mask use, especially in schools. He compared it to wearing a seatbelt.
“No one argues about wearing seat belts or putting kids in car seats because we know that it has reduced the deaths among children,” Cabaltica said. “It’s like that – it’s basically just putting on a seat belt for your kids when you send them off to school.”
Spectrum Health Lakeland President Dr. Loren Hamel agreed, stressing that COVID-19 “is still producing death and disability across the country.”
“I believe the responsible thing to do – the loving thing to do – for our friends and neighbors is to do everything we can to protect our community from transmission,” Hamel said. “And for me, that includes a mask, hand hygiene and social distancing.”
In Indiana, South Bend, Mishawaka, Penn-Harris-Madison, Elkhart and Goshen schools have all implemented mask mandates.
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