LANSING – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday toughened and expanded Michigan’s mask-wearing requirements, saying that wearing masks is the best way to reverse an increase in coronavirus cases.
Whitmer issued an executive order that:
The order takes effect Monday and applies to the entire state.
Though a violation can be a misdemeanor and bring a $500 fine, Whitmer’s order and the news release that detailed it is silent on enforcement. Whitmer said Thursday that local officials will likely need to become more active in enforcement. The prior order did not set out specific penalties for violation.
Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said reports of violations by customers can be made to local police or the Attorney General’s Office, and complaints about businesses not enforcing the order can be made to the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
But the first line of enforcement will be business employees directed to refuse entry to those who will not wear a mask. That’s a frustration for retailers, said Bill Hallan, president and CEO of the Michigan Retailers Association.
While the association appreciates Whitmer’s efforts to increase mask compliance, “this puts retail employees in potentially dangerous situations when they’re forced to confront unmasked customers,” Hallan said in a news release.
Whitmer said “the heroes on the front lines of this crisis have gone hours without taking their masks off every day – doctors, nurses, child care workers, grocery store workers. We owe it to them to wear our masks when we’re on a trip to the grocery store or pharmacy,” she said.
“By wearing masks now, we can put our state in a stronger position so our kids can return to school safely in the fall. For the sake of your loved ones, let’s all mask up, Michigan.”
Under the order, businesses open to the public must refuse entry and service to individuals who refuse to wear a mask, which can be a home-made face covering, and must post signs at all entrances instructing customers of their legal obligation to wear a face covering while inside.
Those exempt from wearing a mask in Michigan businesses include people younger than 5, those who cannot medically tolerate a face covering, and those eating or drinking while seated at a food service establishment.
Hallan said “determining the validity of an ambiguous exemption is an impossible task for a retailer.” Despite that, “even retailers acting in good faith could be subject to severe licensing sanctions based on the actions of noncompliant customers.”
Willful violation of the order – by customers or businesses – is a misdemeanor that can bring a $500 fine, but no jail time. Suspension of a business license or liquor license is another potential penalty.
How does one know if they are in a crowded outdoor space and required to wear a mask? According to the order, when outdoors and unable to consistently stay 6 feet away from people not in your household, and when waiting for or riding public transportation, or using a taxi or ride share service.
Whitmer said governors in the states of Kansas, Maine, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Washington have imposed similar requirements on businesses.
The governor’s order says people worshipping in a church, mosque or other such place are not subject to penalty for not wearing a mask, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly encourages the wearing of face coverings during religious services.
Whitmer has been talking up the importance of wearing masks in recent days and said Thursday she could be announcing new measures to heighten compliance with her executive order, or to broaden the order.
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Coronavirus cases in Michigan have been trending upward in recent weeks amid a national surge, though the number of deaths in Michigan remain far below March and April numbers and hospitals are generally not close to their capacity for COVID-19 patients.
Mask wearing – and the enforcement of mask requirements – has been uneven in retail sto…