GRAND RAPIDS — The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce today urged Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to update state restrictions after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can go maskless in most indoor settings.
The CDC’s move “highlights the urgent need for Gov. Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to update restrictions to allow for weddings and events in alignment with this new health guidance,” Grand Rapids Chamber President and CEO Rick Baker said in a statement.
“Our event venues, large and small, are in desperate need of clarity so they can plan their recovery. Michigan’s current plan has no certain dates, and we are more than a million and a half vaccinations away from getting ‘Vacc to Normal,’” Baker said, referring to Whitmer’s plan tying reopenings to vaccination thresholds. “Michigan is clearly an outlier in this industry compared to other states and especially in the Midwest. We are losing business to other states and it is time to change course. We need to set a date to bring indoor meetings, conventions, weddings and events safely back.”
Under the governor’s Vacc to Normal plan, the state would lift face mask requirements two weeks after 70 percent of residents 16 and older have at least one dose of a vaccine, a threshold that’s probably weeks away.
On Monday, the state hit 55 percent of people 16 and older who are vaccinated, a milestone that allows in-person work to return May 24 for all business sectors.
In a briefing today, Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM) President Brian Calley said the CDC “is in conflict” with present pandemic emergency orders from the state, as well as Michigan Occupational and Safety Administration (MIOSHA) temporary rules and proposed permanent rules for workplace safety.
“So, you have all these different things happening and swirling out there and it’s created more conflict than what we’ve seen in quite some time,” Calley said. “It’s the reason why you see more and more states saying, ‘It’s time to end pandemic emergency orders and making rules according to those types of standards.’ There’s way too much conflict, it’s way too much inconsistency, especially given the fact that about half of our population is now vaccinated and more important than that, anybody who wants a vaccine now over the age of 12 can get one.”
As of today, 55.4 percent, or 4.45 million, of Michigan residents 16 and over have received at least one vaccine dose, according to a state dashboard.
Under the governor’s Vacc to Normal plan, reaching a 60-percent threshold would lead to the state increasing indoor capacity limits at sports stadiums, conference centers, banquet halls and funeral homes to 25 percent. The state also would increase capacity to 50 percent for exercise facilities and gyms and lift curfews on restaurants and bars.
Two weeks after 65 percent, or 5.26 million residents, are vaccinated, the state would lift all indoor percentage capacity limits and only require social distancing between parties, and further ease limits on residential social gatherings.
Once the vaccination rate hits 70 percent, the state within two weeks would lift orders on gatherings and the use of face masks.
SBAM CEO Rob Fowler described the present state requirements and today’s CDC decision as trying to sail a boat “in a straight line when the winds are going in all different directions.”
“I don’t know if I’ve seen a time when the winds were blowing in such different directions,” Fowler said. “You cannot sail a boat in a straight line if the winds are really going in all different directions. It’s super disruptive, and that’s the analogy for business today. Our government is disrupting because of just mixed signals and crosswinds.”
Baker urged the governor “to pull back making Michigan’s COVID-19 Workplace Safety Rules permanent.”
“Given the changing information as we emerge from the pandemic, this is not the time to advance permanent rules that are inconsistent with the CDC, require masks, and more,” he said.
In a Thursday afternoon email to clients, Grand Rapids law firm Warner Norcross + Judd LPP said that even with the new CDC mask guidelines, emergency MIOSHA rules remain in effect for now. The CDC guidelines would not apply when face masks and social distancing are required by local or state rules.
“Notably, these rules do not create any exceptions for vaccinated employees. Therefore, employers should continue to require all employees to wear masks and social distance, regardless of their vaccination status, unless and until such rules are modified to align with this latest CDC guidance,” the firm stated in its email to clients.
MIOSHA rules currently require employers to:
- Keep everyone on the worksite premises at least 6 feet from each other to the maximum extent possible.
- Provide non-medical grade face coverings to their employees at no cost to the employee.
- Require face coverings to be worn when employees cannot consistently maintain 6 feet of separation from other individuals in the workplace, and consider face shields when employees cannot consistently maintain 6 feet of separation from other individuals in the workplace.
- Require face coverings in shared spaces, including during in-person meetings and in restrooms and hallways.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with guidance from Warner Norcross + Judd LLP.