LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has issued a new order restricting gathering sizes, requiring face coverings and limiting some businesses across the state, citing authority that wasn’t covered by the Supreme Court’s recent decision.
This order reinstates three aspects of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s previous emergency orders:
- Masks are required at indoor and outdoor gatherings that involve people from different households.
- Specific gathering limitations.
- Bars must close indoor common areas, and indoor gatherings are prohibited in most areas where alcohol is sold.
This order is effective immediately and remains in effect through Oct. 30, according to MDHHS officials.
Supreme Court ruling
On Friday, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that Whitmer did not have the authority to issue executive orders without the approval of the state legislature.
“It is important to note that this ruling does not take effect for at least 21 days, and until then, my emergency declaration and orders retain the force of law,” Whitmer said shortly after the ruling was announced. “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.”
But on Sunday, that timeline became less clear, as Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel revealed Whitmer’s orders would not be enforced, effective immediately. Nessel’s office encouraged Michiganders to continue following COVID-19 safety protocols, despite the court’s decision.
MDHHS Director Robert Gordon said this new order relies on authorities that were first enacted after the Spanish Flu of 1918, and that were not at issue in the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision.
“When it comes to fighting COVID-19, we are all in this together," Whitmer said. "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. 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.”
According to officials, 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.
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.
“Michigan was hit hard by COVID-19 early in the pandemic,” Gordon said. “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.”
Officials said local health departments can enforce the terms of the order.
Michigan residents have to wear masks at indoor and outdoor gatherings. The order requires everyone to wear masks when people from multiple households are in a shared space in a group of two or more.
Businesses and government offices have to enforce those requirements for gatherings on their premises.
The order also requires children and staff members to wear masks at schools, except for in Michigan Economic Recovery Council Region 6.
Gathering size limitations
The order reinstates limitations on gathering sizes that mirror the requirements Whitmer previously put in place.
Indoor gatherings of more than 10 and up to 500 people occurring at a non-residential venue are permitted within certain limits.
Gatherings in venues with fixed seating must be limited to 20% of normal capacity. Gatherings of up to 25% of normal capacity are allowed in Michigan Economic Recovery Council Region 6.
In venues without fixed seating, attendance has to be limited to 20 people per 1,000 square feet in each occupied room. Gatherings of up to 25 people per 1,000 square feet are allowed in Michigan Economic Recovery Council Region 6.
Non-residential outdoor gatherings of between 100 and 1,000 people are allowed at venues with fixed seating at up to 30% of normal capacity and at 30 people per 1,000 square feet at venues without fixed seating.
The order doesn’t close bars, but 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, practicing or competing in an organized sport have to wear facial coverings, except when swimming or consistently maintaining six feet of distance.