Michigan’s officially reopened, baby. As of June 22, it’s goodbye capacity restrictions and broad face mask requirements, regardless of your vaccination status.
And hello, confusion. “It’s hard, because everything is happening so fast,” said Kristan Sayers, owner of KBella Hair Studio & Spa in Brighton, and president of the Michigan Association of Beauty Professionals. "Salon owners are really confused... It's a free-for-all."
They're not alone. This is new territory for so many businesses, workplaces and schools balancing shifting regulations and employee safety, while trying not to anger the people who are done with masks, or frighten off those who are still reticent.
Last week, Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s administration announced an “accelerated” reopening plan: rather than lifting all restrictions on July 1, they moved the big day up to Tuesday, citing the CDC's masking guidance, “plummeting” case numbers, and more than 60% of residents age 16+ having received at least one shot.
“Today is a day that we have all been looking forward to, as we can safely get back to normal day-to-day activities and put this pandemic behind us,” Whitmer said in the press release.
But it’s not behind us. The virus is still circulating, and emerging variants are still cause for concern.
"I do think that the prevalence of the virus, as we can see by our case rates and our percent positivity, is much, much lower - the lowest it's been throughout this entire pandemic," said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan's Chief Medical Executive. "But… the risk is still there… the more easily transmitted variants are threats to our progress."
What’s ending on Tuesday is the statewide mask requirement. Local health departments, school districts, and businesses can still set their own policies. Federal requirements mean you still have to mask up in the airport, and on planes and other mass transit. And nationally, hospitals and most medical facilities are continuing to require masks for employees, patients and visitors in most instances.
Even if you’re fully vaccinated, keep your mask on in these places
State health officials are recommending everyone keep wearing masks in K-12 classrooms and childcare centers, at least for the rest of summer school, because kids under 12 can’t get vaccinated yet. So far, about 25% of kids ages 12-15 and 38% of teens 16-19 in Michigan have gotten at least one dose of the COVID vaccine.
They’re also strongly suggesting masks if you’re playing indoor contact sports, or in high-risk congregate settings, like residential care facilities, hospitals, jails, prisons and migrant farm worker housing. Some employees in these congregate settings have additional masking requirements. More on that below.
And even if you’re fully vaccinated, it may be a good idea to wear a mask if your immune system is weakened by health issues like cancer treatment, an organ transplant, or an illness that leaves you immunocompromised. The vaccine will still help you mount a stronger response to the coronavirus, but there you’re still at an increased risk, doctors say.
“Because immunocompromised patients have weakened immune systems, they mount a lower immune response to a vaccine as compared to healthy people,” said Dr. Mayur Ramesh, an infectious disease doctor at Henry Ford Health System, in an article advising cancer and transplant patients. “We don’t know exactly how effective the COVID-19 vaccines are in immunocompromised people, which means they should adhere to strict precautions even if they’re fully vaccinated.”
What if you’re not fully vaccinated? Or your kid’s under 12?
If you haven’t gotten vaccinated, or you or your child aren’t fully two weeks out from your final COVID shot, then you should keep wearing your mask in most indoor settings and in some outdoor areas, too. That’s especially true in a crowd, including outdoor concerts or sporting events.
For unvaccinated kids ages 2 and up, health experts recommend they keep wearing masks when they’re indoors and around other people beyond the members of their household.
"It's still possible for parents to say, 'You still have to wear a mask, particularly when you are in indoor spaces,'" said Khaldun, who says she does the same for her young child. "Unfortunately, there are some children who have gotten infected and some of them have actually lost their lives. So it is still important that we protect our children, and that includes when they all go back to school in the fall. And we're working very closely with our local health departments, to make sure we're providing guidance so that schools can keep our children safe."
And schools will still be required to report school-related COVID cases to the health department and notify the community of any confirmed cases.
What about high-risk areas, like nursing homes or prisons?
The state still has additional masking, testing and reporting requirements for places that saw a lot of outbreaks during the last year, including prisons, agricultural settings, and nursing homes.
Most of them apply to employees and residents, but can still be useful for the general public if, say, you want to know how soon grandma’s nursing home has to alert you about a COVID case in the facility (ASAP, but definitely within 24 hours, if you’re the legal guardian/healthcare proxy). You can see the full list here:
What does this mean for businesses?
The federal government has put out some basic guidelines for businesses, primarily focused around unvaccinated workers or those who have higher risks due to health issues like recent organ transplants. The guidelines also encourage vaccinations. Now the state’s workplace regulators say they’ll offer more guidance, too.
“MIOSHA expects to amend its rules in an announcement tomorrow to comply with the Biden administration’s new OSHA guidelines for workplaces here in Michigan, replacing the existing COVID emergency rules that are set to expire in October,” said Jason Moon, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, in an email Monday.
Some large companies and employers have started asking workers to self-report their vaccination status if they want to be exempt from social distancing and mask requirements.
Based on messages on their group Facebook chats, Sayers said it looks like most salon owners are getting rid of mask requirements.
“My salon, and most of the bigger salons and names, if clients want to wear a mask and they want their service provider to wear a mask, they put one on.” They’re still following safety protocols too, she said, like keeping customers six feet apart, and some are still doing appointment-only booking.
“Lots of clients still come in wearing N95s and still wearing a mask,” she said. “I was more on the mask side of the fence...and it was shocking, once it all switched over, I thought for sure there’d be a lot of pushback on one side or the other.” But some of her most mask-conscious customers became angry when they found out she was still requiring masks. “So [we said] ‘OK, if you’re fully vaccinated and you tell us, you don’t have to wear a mask.’”
Lots of policies will likely be shifting over the coming weeks, Sayers said, something that’s true of many industries.
Lauren Talley produced and edited the Morning Edition interview with Dr. Khaldun.