As the state mandates face coverings for indoor public places and large outdoor gatherings, a coalition of health care organizations in Michigan urges residents to raise “their vigilance against COVID-19,” maintain distance from one another and to wear a mask.
The plea comes from the Partnership for Michigan’s Health, consisting of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, the Michigan Osteopathic Association and the Michigan State Medical Society.
Hospital intensive care units in Southeast Michigan this spring were at or near capacity while thousands of health care workers were at risk of infection either at work or at home and personal protection equipment was in short supply, the partnership noted. The pandemic hit health care providers hard when they were unable to perform non-essential surgeries and procedures for weeks.
“Hospitals across Michigan are growing increasingly concerned about high COVID-19 case numbers and people letting their guard down about physical distancing and wearing face coverings,” said Brian Peters, CEO of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association. “We don’t want to return to circumstances where hospitals are overwhelmed, services are shut down and kids can’t return to school. This is serious, but preventable. Please wear a mask and avoid large gatherings to protect yourself and others. We can enjoy the summer while being responsible.”
The Partnership for Michigan’s Health issued the plea Friday afternoon, a few hours after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order that took effect on Monday. The order requires people to wear a face mask when they are in indoor public places and crowded outdoor spaces to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and stop the growing number of COVID-19 cases.
“Michigan has been a leader in containing this virus and protecting residents throughout the pandemic,” said Dr. Jeffrey Postlewaite, president of the Michigan Osteopathic Association. “These temporary measures will save lives and allow Michigan to remain on a safe path to reopening our economy and our schools.”
Just like Whitmer’s executive order, the health care groups cited studies that show face coverings can significantly reduce COVID-19 spread and death rates. The partnership said that “multiple health and academic institutions have recently reiterated that face coverings do not reduce oxygen levels nor increase carbon dioxide levels and are safe to wear for most individuals.”
Under the governor’s order, 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.
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 5 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 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 mask 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.
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.”
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.”
On Thursday last week, 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.