Gov. Gretchen Whitmer today issued an executive order requiring people to wear masks starting next week when they are in indoor public places and crowded outdoor spaces to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and the growing number of COVID-19 cases.
Under the executive order that takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday, businesses must refuse entry or service to anybody who refuses to wear a face mask. The order follows a recent increase in COVID-19 cases that led to some areas of the state, Grand Rapids included, to move back into a high-risk category.
“Michigan’s fight against COVID-19 is nowhere near over, which is why it’s so important that we all do our part and wear masks when we’re out in public,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
“Wearing a mask or face covering can significantly decrease the chance of spreading COVID-19 and save lives. It’s important that all Michiganders wear masks properly — not down around the neck, not only over the mouth, but correctly over the mouth and nose. Please everyone stay patient, and remain vigilant,” Khaldun said in a statement.
The executive order requires businesses to post signs at all entrances informing customers they are legally obligated to wear a face covering while inside. The order includes exemptions such as people younger than five years old, individuals who cannot medically tolerate a face covering, and people who are eating or drinking while seated at a restaurant or food establishments, or “actively engaged” in a public safety role — police office, emergency medical personnel and firefighters.
A willful violation of the order could result in a $500 fine.
Whitmer’s new executive order drew praise from the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, the trade group representing liquor licensees, which had been critical of the governor in recent weeks over another executive order that closed bars to indoor service. The MLBA said it had heard complaints from members about patrons refusing to wear masks and to remain socially distant inside bars and restaurants.
“This new order levels the playing field for all businesses and will create a safer environment without grief from customers for hospitality businesses,” MLBA Executive Director Scott Ellis said in a statement. “The MLBA has consistently advocated for bars and restaurants to follow all necessary precautions to protect patrons and we’re grateful that this new order establishes penalties for those acting in bad faith.”
The Michigan Retailers Association raised concerns with Whitmer’s order, saying the group is “frustrated” that it “did not leave the policing to law enforcement officers. This puts retail employees in potentially dangerous situations when they’re forced to confront unmasked customers,” MRA President and CEO Bill Hallan said in a statement.
He added that determining exemptions under the order is an “impossible task” for retailers.
“We worry for retail employees’ safety and disagree with the overly aggressive penalties for retailers,” Hallan said. “When shopping, please wear a mask and understand that retailers are not to blame for the state’s mask requirement. Shopping has proven to be a safe activity, we can keep it safe and retail doors open by wearing a mask and being respectful of others.”
The Michigan chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses said the executive order puts small business owners “in the crossfire of serving customers and enforcing the governor’s latest executive order.”
“On the one hand, it helps the business owner to be able to tell a customer that it’s the law and if they do not require a face covering then they could end up getting shut down,” said NFIB State Director Charlie Owens. “On the other hand, it puts them in the position of being the enforcement arm and arbiter of the governor’s orders.”
Owens questions when business owners are “going to have to guess who is exempt and who is not” exempt from the order. He also worries about the potential for hostile situations, citing the case from Flint in which a Family Dollar security guard was shot and killed after telling a customer he had to wear a mask.
“Hostile people can pose a serious threat to the owner and their employees who are policing a mask requirement in addition to their other duties, most small businesses are not going to be able to hire a security guard,” Owens said.
The order also excludes from penalty people “removing a mask while engaging in religious worship at a house of religious worship. Consistent with guidance from the CDC, congregants are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings during religious services.”
The announcement this morning from the governor’s office noted that Kansas, Maine, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Washington have imposed similar requirements. The announcement also cited a German study that suggested a mandatory mask requirement decreased the growth rate of COVID-19 by 40 percent, as well as University of Washington modeling that shows the potential to save 40,000 lives if 95 percent of the U.S. population wore a mask while in public.
“By wearing masks, we can save lives and protect our family, friends, and neighbors from the spread of COVID-19. And by wearing masks now, we can put our state in a stronger position so our kids can return to school safely in the fall,” Whitmer said. “For the sake of your loved ones, let’s all mask up, Michigan.”
On Thursday, a coalition of business and health care leaders warned that Michigan was at a “dangerous tipping point” in the COVID-19 pandemic and “at risk of losing ground it has sacrificed for months to gain,” as MiBiz previously reported.
As of Wednesday, Michigan had recorded 67,683 confirmed cases of COVID-19, an increase of 446 from the day before, and 6,024 deaths.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with comment from the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association and NFIB.