(WXYZ) — Michigan COVID cases have been rising slightly, with daily cases averaging more than 900. Growing concerns over the Delta variant have sparked debates on masks, especially for children and teens headed into the new school year.
On 7 UpFront, we spoke with Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Dir. Elizabeth Hertel about the state's plans to address the recent growth in cases and concerns about the virus spreading during the fall and winter months.
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"Anytime we see a new variant becoming the dominant variant across the country, we become concerned," Hertel said in Thursday's 7 UpFront interview. "We know that the variant is present in Michigan and we certainly are watching our case numbers go up. Knowing this is more transmissible, (we) continue to encourage people to get the safe, effective vaccine to minimize transmission of the Delta variant."
Hertel added that the state's leading health organization has been in talks with schools and local health departments about the best way to tackle concerns over the virus going into the school year. The goal is to ensure that the right policies are in place to protect children.
"We know the right thing, right now, is for kids – especially those who cannot be vaccinated – to be wearing masks indoors," Hertel said.
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However, it's impossible to guarantee that COVID won't spread among students and staff during the school year, which is why Hertel says districts and parents must follow "clear" guidelines in addressing how to mitigate the spreading of the virus.
"We continue to review our school guidance that we put out a few weeks ago, and make sure that it is clear and that the districts and the parents understand what steps they need to take in order to keep kids safe," Hertel said.
Additionally, Hertel says MDHHS has no plans to impose pandemic restrictions like last year. That means no gatherings or mask mandates are on the horizon. She says that the state's best defense against the virus is to get the vaccine.
"We know right now that the best tool we have right now to fight COVID is the safe, effective vaccine," the health director said. "And it is available, it is free. We continue to encourage people to get vaccinated. That's our best tool to end this pandemic."
And as we move out of summer and into fall, Hertel says vaccination rates will likely go up as fewer vaccinations are usually administered during summer months. Knowing this makes her feel optimistic, she said.
"As we gear up and the weather starts getting colder, I do think that we'll start seeing continued increases in vaccinations," Hertel said.