Protests continue over Berrien Co. mask mandate

NOW: Protests continue over Berrien Co. mask mandate

BENTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Berrien County health leaders gave an update on COVID-19 transmission rates one week into the school year amid more protests against the health department’s mask mandate.

Parents demonstrated outside a handful of high schools Tuesday following the mandate becoming effective.

Then, on Wednesday, some gathered outside the Berrien County Health Department to make their opinion heard.

The health department issued the public health order last week in response to transmission rates remaining high. 

Most Berrien County districts had originally voted against requiring masks at their respective school board meetings.

“Last week was first week for many of our schools and in the first four days we had 26 cases for staff and students which resulted in over 83 quarantines, so that’s a lot of time out of classrooms and universal masking allows us to exclude a lot less students,” said Courtney Davis, Berrien County Health Department Acting Health Officer.

For those parents who protested outside the health department Wednesday, they felt masking should be an individual’s choice. 

“We refuse to co-parent with the health department, our group’s goal is freedom of choice, not anti-vax or anti-mask, we want our kids to have the freedom to choose and we’re not going to stop until they have that,” said Victory Woodall, a St. Joseph Public Schools parent.

As some Berrien County parents band together for that cause, others have spoken out in favor of universal masking and said the health department’s action is a relief. 

“We use these services within our cities, communities to keep the public safe, it’s in the best interest of the general public to protect other people,” said Sarah Strait, a St. Joseph Public Schools parent. “We should not be looking at this for more than what it is, which is a mere inconvenience.”

For the school mask requirement to be lifted, the health department said Berrien County must get back in the moderate or low community transmission thresholds and remain there for at least 21 days.

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