Whitmer uses Mich. Dept. of Health and Human Services to issue masks, gathering sizes order

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued an Emergency Order restricting gathering sizes, requiring face coverings in public spaces, and places limitations on bars and other venues. This supports previous rules put into place by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the state's medical team to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The order follows the Michigan Supreme Court decision on Friday, Oct 2, that invalidated COVID-19 related executive orders. Today's order relies on authorities that were first enacted after the Spanish Flu of 1918, and that was not at issue in the Michigan Supreme Court's decision, said a release from the state.

Whitmer hinted she would be undeterred from enforcing safety protocols amid the pandemic despite the decision by the state's highest court through other agencies, which said the state legislature would have to be included on future executive orders. 

Last Friday after the court ruling she said "Furthermore, after 21 days, many of the responsive measures I have put in place to control the spread of the virus will continue under alternative sources of authority that were not at issue in today's ruling."

Local health departments and officials would now be tasked with enforcement of the orders and not the state. Violations of this order are punishable by a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than six months or a fine of not more than $200, or both. Violations of this order are also punishable by a civil fine of fine of up to $1,000.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said he planned to continue the mask mandate there, in accordance to the MDHHS order.

"The orders and directives issued today make it clear how we can continue to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in a way that is consistent with Michigan law while meeting the safety needs of its residents,” Evans said. “We know social distancing and properly wearing a face mask are among the most effective ways to control the spread of COVID-19. The new orders will continue these life-saving public health measures."

The lastest order reinstates, under the department's authority, three major aspects of prior emergency orders.

The first is the continued use of 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.

Other emergency order rules include:

  • 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 percent 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. 

In addition, athletes training or practicing for or competing in an organized sport must wear a facial covering, except when swimming, or consistently maintain six feet of social distance. 

Whitmer released a video on Twitter late Monday talking about the importance of masks and the need for vigilance in containing the virus.

"When it comes to fighting COVID-19, we are all in this together," Whitmer said in a release. "We need Michiganders everywhere to do their part by wearing masks and practicing safe physical distancing so we can keep our schools and small businesses open and protect the brave men and women serving on the front lines of this crisis,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. “The epidemic order that Director Gordon issued today is an important step to protect Michiganders across the state from the spread of COVID-19. Let’s all mask up and stay safe.” 

Under MCL 333.2253, if the MDHHS director determines that control of an epidemic is necessary to protect the public health, the director by emergency order may prohibit the gathering of people for any purpose and may establish procedures to be followed during the epidemic to insure continuation of essential public health services and enforcement of health laws.