Whitmer’s administration reissues Michigan mask order, gathering limits under new authority

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer during an August 14, 2020 press conference.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer during an August 14, 2020 press conference.(State of Michigan)
Published: Oct. 5, 2020 at 4:49 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) - The Whitmer administration turned to different laws Monday for authority to reissue some statewide mandates to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Michigan.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued an emergency order restricting gathering sizes, requiring a mask or face covering in public places and limiting indoor service for bars and taverns.

After the Michigan Supreme Court ruled on Friday that Whitmer lacks authority to issue unilateral statewide orders under the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act, her administration instead looked to laws passed in reaction to the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic for authority.

The laws used as the basis for Monday’s orders were not affected by Friday’s Supreme Court ruling.

“When it comes to fighting COVID-19, we are all in this together. 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 Whitmer.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon issued the orders under Public Act 368 of 1978, which is known as the public health code. It allows the person in his position to “prohibit the gathering of people for any purpose and to establish procedures to be followed during the epidemic.”

Violations of Gordon’s orders are punishable by up to six months in jail or a fine of up to $1,000.

“Michigan was hit hard by COVID-19 early in the pandemic,” said Gordon. “Strict preventive measures and the cooperation of Michiganders drove those numbers down dramatically, greatly reducing the loss of life. As we head into flu season, this order is necessary to protect vulnerable individuals, ensure the health care system can provide care for all health issues, keep schools open, and maintain economic recovery.”

The new mask order is very similar to Whitmer’s previous statewide face covering order. Everyone at an indoor gathering of two or more people not from the same household must have a mask or face covering over their nose and mouth.

Businesses also are required to enforce the order on their property. The mask order still applies to indoor and outdoor athletes who cannot maintain at least 6 feet of social distancing at all times, including during strenuous activity.

Capacity limits for gatherings an indoor spaces also remain mostly the same:

  • Indoor gatherings are limited to 10 or fewer people not from the same household.
  • Non-residential indoor venues are limited to 20% of their capacity, 20 people per 1,000 square feet or 500 people, whichever is less.
  • Outdoor gatherings in residential settings are allowed with up to 100 people.
  • Outdoor gatherings at non-residential venues are limited to 30% of the capacity, 30 people per 1,000 square feet or 1,000 people, whichever is less.

Whitmer’s previously announced closure of indoor service at bars and taverns also continues under a new order. All indoor spaces where people congregate, dance or mingle are prohibited wherever alcohol is sold, except for eateries where people can dine at tables 6 feet apart.

Local health departments and police officers in Michigan have authority to enforce limits under the 1978 law.

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