The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is imposing new mask requirements, gathering limitations and restaurant capacity rules tied to COVID-19.
Last Friday, the Michigan Supreme Court issued an opinion that could restrict Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s authority to issue executive orders in response to the pandemic.
On Monday, state health department director Robert Gordon stepped into the void with an order of his own. Gordon says he is using authority unconnected to the court’s ruling to keep much of the governor’s coronavirus restrictions in place.
“Orders have helped to stem the spread of COVID. They have reduced the number of cases. They have saved lives,” Gordon told reporters on a conference call on Monday. “We need shared action through orders as much today as we did in March and April.”
Specifically, the order covers:
- Requirements to wear masks at indoor and outdoor gatherings: The order requires individuals to wear masks when in gatherings, defined as any occurrence where persons from multiple households are present in a shared space in a group of two or more, and requires businesses and government offices to enforce those requirements for gatherings on their premises. The order also requires the wearing of masks at schools, except for in Michigan Economic Recovery Council Region 6.
- Limitations on the size of gatherings: The order reinstates limitations on gathering sizes that mirror the requirements that Governor Whitmer had previously put in place. These include indoor gatherings of more than 10 and up to 500 people occurring at a non-residential venue are permitted within the following limits:
- In venues with fixed seating, limit attendance to 20% of normal capacity. However, gatherings up to 25% of normal capacity are permitted in Michigan Economic Recovery Council Region 6.
- In venues without fixed seating, limit attendance to 20 persons per 1,000 square feet in each occupied room. However, gatherings of up to 25 persons per 1,000 square feet are permitted in Michigan Economic Recovery Council Region 6.
- Non-residential outdoor gatherings of between 100 and 1,000 persons at venues with fixed seating are permitted at up to 30% of normal capacity and at 30 persons per 1,000 square feet at venues without fixed seating.
Limitations on certain establishments: Although the order does not close bars, it requires them to close indoor common areas where people can congregate, dance or otherwise mingle. Indoor gatherings are prohibited anywhere alcoholic beverages are sold except for table services where parties are separated from one another by at least six feet.
“These orders have the force of law. They can be enforced civilly and criminally,” says Gordon. “They can be enforced by state law enforcement or by local law enforcement.”
It is unclear if local law enforcement agencies will be any more willing to enforce the health department’s orders than many were to enforce the governor’s executive orders.
State health officials say parts of Michigan are seeing a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases, especially in the Upper Peninsula.