Genesee County, MI— Health officials are asking Genesee County residents to wear masks at indoor public spaces and have issued a masking directive effective immediately, citing a rise in COVID cases and the highly transmissible Delta variant.

The directive applies to all residents over the age of five, regardless of vaccination status.

Genesee County Medical Health Officer Dr. Pamela Hackert made the announcement during a press conference Aug. 4.

“I’m announcing the Medical Health Officer Indoor Masking Directive in order to respond to the increasing case counts that we’re seeing in Genesee County and throughout Michigan from the increased threat of the Delta variant,” Hackert said.

Indoor public spaces include retail grocery stores, government buildings, and other spaces where the public can enter freely.

Hackert said the directive is “proactive” and “necessary” to prevent further transmission of the virus, but will not be enforced with legal consequences if an individual does not comply.

“I’m asking that people use this as a public health directive or strong guideline as to what is going to help keep people safe in their community,” she said.

Genesee County reported its first two cases of the COVID Delta variant July 20, which is more contagious than other strains.

Hackert said that while one dose of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are 85%-90% effective against the original COVID virus, two doses are needed to be fully protected from the Delta variant.

Cases in Genesee County have been steadily increasing over the past month.

According to the Michigan Safe Start Map Data, which tracks the risk levels of COVID indicators, Genesee County is at risk level “C,” showing moderate risk.

Additionally, based on the number of cases per one million and cases positivity rate, Genesee County meets “substantial” and “high” transmission levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Around 46% of Genesee County residents over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated. There are 190,000 residents who are eligible for the vaccine but are not vaccinated, according to the Genesee County Health Department.

Hackert said she is “not happy” with these numbers.

“I would really like to see many more people get vaccinated. But again, I think there’s a lot of education components in terms of addressing individuals’ needs. Some people just aren’t ready,” she said.

Children younger than 12 years old are at a greater risk for infection because they are not eligible for vaccination. There are approximately 56,000 children in Genesee County who fall into this category.

Hackert said that while she will not take “enforcement actions” with the directive, she strongly urges residents comply so that schools can remain open.

“It would really reduce substantially any kind of quarantine for our students. I’m a mom and my very first goal is to keep the kids in school and safe,” she said. “I don’t think anyone wants to repeat what happened last year. So, we are giving people guidelines as to how we can make sure that people do not have to go home, children do not have to go home and quarantine.”

The directive will continue until the GCHD confirms COVID disease rates have declined to low levels of transmission as defined by the CDC.

“I really wanted to do this proactively before we reached the substantial level and I’m hoping to never reach the high level. I think that if people mask up, and continue our efforts to answer or address vaccine hesitancy, that we will be able to try and avoid that,” Hackert said.

Carmen Nesbitt is a journalist with diverse experience in news reporting and feature writing. She wrote for Hour Detroit and SEEN Magazine before joining the Flint Beat news team as an education and public...