Whitmer, state's chief medical official at odds over school mask mandate

Michigan’s chief medical executive says she recommended a statewide school mask mandate, which the governor apparently did not follow.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Indications of a divide on pandemic policy within the Whitmer administration emerged Wednesday as Michigan’s chief medical executive said she had recommended the state impose statewide school mask mandates – a recommendation the governor apparently did not follow.

The remarks from Dr. Joneigh Khaldun appeared to be at odds with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s insistence that she has been following the science to guide her COVID-19 policies.

Whitmer has declared that she plans to leave school mask guidelines up to individual county health departments and local school districts, despite recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to implement universal mask mandates throughout the nation’s schools. Khaldun indicated that she would have preferred to accept the CDC recommendation.

“I have recommended that if a mask mandate were in place, and it were followed, it would likely decrease the spread of COVID-19 in schools,” Khaldun told reporters.

Khaldun added her position was constrained to provide public health guidance, but there were “many other things” influencing the policies of Whitmer and Michigan Director of Health and Human Services Elizabeth Hertel that she was not at liberty to discuss.

Hertel, Khaldun’s boss, has said that further COVID-19 restrictions might be introduced soon in response to a spike in cases of the delta variant.

Tori Sachs, executive director of the Michigan Freedom Fund, issued a statement after Khaldun’s remarks were made public, accusing Whitmer of making decisions in her own best interest rather than making the health of state residents the top priority.

“For more than a year, Governor Whitmer has been focused on political science, polling data, and making rules that she refuses to follow,” Sachs said. “No new mandates should be imposed because they are not backed by anything other than politics, which has been Whitmer’s focus this entire time."

“Now comes the admission from chief medical executive Dr. Khaldun that ‘many other things’ influenced Whitmer’s decisions, but the state’s top doctor refused to elaborate on what those things are," Sachs added. "​​Now the public is hearing from another individual in the room where it happens that other factors like politics play into the administration’s restrictions.”

In an interview on Monday with MIRS News Agency, Hertel stated she would not “rule out” new restrictions, and noted another round of statewide mandates and closures could be imminent. “That’s a determination that needs to be made as the virus continues to spread across the state," Hertel said.