LANSING, Mich. – Michigan health officials issued a new COVID-19 emergency order Thursday (Oct. 29) that includes stricter regulations for indoor gatherings.
Director Robert Gordon and Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, both with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, announced the new order. MDHHS’s previous COVID-19 order was set to expire Friday.
The new MDHHS order decreases the number of people who can gather indoors from 500 to 50, unless there is fixed seating at the facility.
Officials said large indoor gatherings have been identified as one of the main reasons for Michigan’s rising COVID-19 numbers.
Venues that have fixed seating -- such as sports arenas -- are not affected by the new order.
This restriction specifically affects gatherings such as banquets, parties and weddings, which have been identified as high-risk events.
“This change responds to global evidence that COVID-19’s explosive growth is powered by events where large-scale outbreaks have occurred, and that indoor settings are as much as 20 times likelier to drive outbreaks than outdoor settings,” state officials said.
Currently, Michigan reports 34 outbreaks linked to social events, such as trips by families/friends, bridal showers and weddings (3-10 cases); funerals (9-22 cases); and outings at social clubs and bowling parties (6-19 cases).
An additional 19 outbreaks of up to 52 cases are linked to church services, which are exempt from enforcement under the order, state officials said.
Gordon said the new order also establishes a schedule of fines and enforcement mechanisms. Penalties are available for residents who don’t follow the new emergency order, he said.
Violations are punishable by a civil fine up to $1,000 and can also be treated as a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison or a fine of up to $200, or both.
Officials said failure to follow the order could violate a business or professional’s licensure requirements or present a workplace safety violation.
“The orders that MDHHS has issued are centered on keeping the public safe and following best practices to reduce the spread of this deadly virus,” Khaldun said. “The alarming surge we are now seeing is exactly why we were so worried about the fall season. We must remain vigilant, so we prevent long-term health consequences and unnecessary deaths, and protect our hospital capacity and the health of our frontline health workers.”
Gordon has the authority to issue this order because of the power put in place for the director of MDHHS after the Spanish flu.
In addition to the enforceable rules set by the order, Gordon and Khaldun revealed a number of important guidelines residents should follow to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Michigan residents are encouraged to stay outside as much as possible when gathering, especially with people from other households.
Anytime someone is inside with another person from a different household, they should be wearing masks as much as possible, Gordon said. Removing masks in these situations should be for the shortest time possible, because that is a period of high risk, he said.
Residents should also observe social distancing and maintain six feet of distance, officials said.
“If people do what they need to do and follow not just the order, but the guidance in the order today, we believe we can get the cases down," Gordon said.
After the first cases of COVID-19 trickled into Michigan in mid-March, the pandemic hit with full force by the end of the month.
Whitmer officially announced the first two confirmed cases March 10, and by March 19, Michigan was reporting hundreds of new confirmed cases each day. After five days between 200 and 300 cases, the numbers sharply rose north of 400 on March 24.
On March 27, the state reported 801 new cases. The first 1,000-case day was March 30, with 1,012. Michigan reported a first spike high of 1,953 cases on April 3, with at least 1,000 new cases nearly every day between March 30 and April 29.
The start of May brought on a sharp decline in cases, as only one day in the entire month came with more than 800 cases, and most days were between 400 and 700.
But a second, more gradual rise in cases began June 24, when the state reported 323 new cases after just 221 the previous day. The count rose to 389 by the end of the week, then got as high as 543 the following week. The seven-day rolling average rose steadily through July and August, with the following notable single-day totals.
October has brought on by far the worst spike in cases for Michigan. Since Oct. 3, 20 of 25 days have come with more than 1,000 new cases, including weekends.
Michigan reported 2,000 cases for the first time Oct. 15, then did so again the very next day. The state’s highest single-day total to date came Saturday (Oct. 24), when it announced 3,338 new cases. Wednesday (Oct. 28) came close with 3,271 new cases.
The state of Michigan was under a stay-at-home order for 70 days at the start of the pandemic, beginning on March 24. At the time, most public businesses in the state had been closed, but the stay-at-home order said Michiganders should only leave their homes to perform essential jobs or go to the grocery store or hospital.
TIMELINE: Michigan’s stay-at-home order
Originally, the stay-at-home order was supposed to last three weeks, but it was extended on April 9, then again on April 24, May 7 and May 22. It was finally lifted June 1.
Michigan gradually reopened certain businesses and sectors of the economy with each extension. Meanwhile, Whitmer and the Republican Legislature battled over whether she had the authority to issue orders and extensions without the approval of lawmakers.
Throughout the pandemic, Whitmer pointed to her “MI Safe Start Plan,” which broke the reopening process into six phases, each with specific indicators and corresponding restrictions. The Upper Peninsula and Traverse City regions stayed a phase ahead of the other six regions
Whitmer issued more than 100 coronavirus-related executive orders from March to October, but they were struck down by the Michigan Supreme Court at the beginning of the month. The court ruled that the law from which she drew that authority was unconstitutional.
Shortly after the ruling, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued their own COVID-19 rules, which closely mirrored the ones previously put in place by Whitmer. Those regulations were set to expire Friday (Oct. 30).