With recent changes in the CDC and Ingham County’s policies to lift masking mandates, residents and employers in Meridian Township are handling the declining, but ever-present, pandemic differently.
Up until a month ago, Playmakers Running Store required employees to wear masks, except on breaks. They also recommended that customers wear masks while inside the store, said employee Jaquez Johnson.
“We were really good with our policies, just making sure that we had extra masks around for customers and having hand sanitizer stations around, too. I genuinely felt really safe there,” Johnson said.
As cases have declined since the beginning of the year, Johnson said that the store, located on Grand River Avenue, decided to lift its mask policy a month ago. Now, employees and customers do not have to wear masks while in the store.
“I’d say a lot more people have been coming in without their masks,” Johnson said. “We never enforced it for our customers; it was always recommended, not required. But since we’ve lifted our policy, I see a lot more people in the store without masks on.”
Despite the change, Johnson is still among a handful of people who choose to mask up.
“There are still those who choose to come in and wear their masks, but there are some that don’t. I am one of those who do, but that’s just me,” he said.
For Johnson, the recent decline isn’t enough for him to feel fully comfortable without a mask, but there are situations in which he takes advantage of the new policies.
“I have loosened up a little bit. Before we open, when we have our morning meetings, I usually won’t wear it because I feel safe around my coworkers. But once they open the doors, it’s right back on,” Johnson said.
Okemos resident Veronica Wirth’s situation is a bit different as a public health employee at Medilodge of East Lansing.
Within the past month, the nursing home also decided to ease its COVID-19 policies, though not as drastically as local shops like Playmakers. Under the new guidelines, employees are still required to wear masks and get tested once a week, Wirth said.
On top of that, they have to get screened every day. If an employee is symptomatic, they can’t go into work.
The real change involves unvaccinated employees.
“Unvaccinated workers and those who haven’t gotten their booster in the last six months have to wear an N-95 mask at work,” Wirth said, referencing the recent federal policy change.
Unvaccinated workers at Medilodge used to have to test every single shift while vaccinated workers only had to twice a week, Wirth said. Since the policy change, unvaccinated workers only have to test twice a week due to the fact that they are required to wear an N-95 mask.
While these updated policies apply to the employees at Medilodge, Wirth said that the residents follow slightly different guidelines.
“The residents really don’t have to wear a mask inside. They’re supposed to when they go out of their room and in the hallways, but it’s not strictly enforced,” Wirth said.
“They get tested every few days, which is good. Their visitors don’t get tested, though, and the masking isn’t super strongly enforced for them. It’s definitely more strict for the workers.”
Wirth said she doesn’t mind the continued enforcement of masks for employees.
“I really like having to test because in the Omicron surge we only had one resident catch COVID-19. At the nursing home that my roommates work at, they had tons of COVID-19 cases,” Wirth said.
“I think that requiring testing and masks and stuff really helps. We have to test before we can even go on the floor or near anyone else, which helps to keep the residents and the workers safe.”
Responsible for both fire safety and emergency medical services, the Meridian Township Fire Department has eased some of its COVID-19 restrictions, but not all.
Though the department is following the Township’s lead in eliminating their mask mandate within fire stations, Fire Chief Mike Hamel said employees are still required to mask up when dealing with emergencies.
“Through Ingham County protocols for public health, we’re still required [to wear masks in emergency situations],” Hamel said.
“For example, if I’m riding in the front of an ambulance with a partner, we have to wear masks. When we deal with patients, we’re required to wear an N-95 at a minimum, but gloves and safety glasses, we’re not going to change that.”
Outside of those situations, Hamel said that the department has relaxed most other COVID-19 guidelines, except one.
“We still social distance,” Hamel said. “Our dorm room has four beds. It’s a little smaller and the beds are right on top of each other, so we have a community room where we put some beds to loosen up and provide for a little more social distancing.”
Like most people, Hamel said that he and the department are looking forward to the day where cases are so low that universally agreed upon guidelines can become the norm.
“The numbers have come down a lot now, so we’re hoping that continues and we’ll kind of transition back to our normal dorm life,” Hamel said.
As both COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to decline across the country, government officials have updated prior measures to reflect the most recent national and statewide trends.
On Feb. 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their COVID-19 guidelines, easing previous mask recommendations for people living in low or medium threat counties.
A week earlier, Ingham County officials lifted their mask mandate in schools, leaving it up to individual districts to decide their own policies.
These decisions come after a recent drop off in average daily cases per 100,000 people, among other statistics. In Michigan, there were 194.2 average daily cases per 100,000 people on Jan. 21. Two months later, there are now 9.5 average cases per day, according to the Mayo Clinic.