3 takeaways from Whitmer briefing: Restaurant photo outrage, workplace rules, Michigan’s current state

MIOSHA unveils new return-to-work regulations

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at a May 24, 2021, press briefing at a Grand Rapids business.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at a May 24, 2021, press briefing at a Grand Rapids business. (WDIV)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – During a Monday briefing, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer talked about the outrage stemming from a photo of her at a restaurant, the new return-to-work rules and Michigan’s overall standing in terms of COVID-19 and unemployment.

Busy week of Michigan COVID news: Whitmer’s restaurant photo, new restrictions, returning to work

Here are our takeaways from her briefing:

Restaurant photo

Whitmer was asked about a controversial picture that surfaced, showing her sitting with a large party at a restaurant despite longtime restrictions limiting tables to six people.

Since restaurant restrictions were put in place early in the pandemic, a six-person limit has been enforced for indoor dining.

This weekend, a photo surfaced showing the governor sitting at a table with at least 12 people. She said she went to the restaurant with some friends and when more people arrived, tables were pushed together to merge parties. She said everyone was vaccinated, so they didn’t stop to think about it being an issue.

“In retrospect, I should have thought about it,” Whitmer said. “I am human. I made a mistake, and I apologize.”

Here’s what she said Monday about the controversy:

“So I’ll just say this: I have put out a statement. I wrote that statement. It was an honest mistake, and I have apologized for it. I think that we have specifically not gone forward and penalized businesses that are trying to do the right thing. It’s those that have flouted and put people’s safety at risk that are the most concerning.

“But I don’t know that there’s a lot more for me to add at this point in time other than those former Spartans -- or, I guess you’re a Spartan for life who know the establishment should be aware that it is now a restaurant and they have pretty good pizza. Next question.”

Return-to-work rules

Whitmer also outlined MIOSHA’s updated rules for returning to the workplace.

“Back in October 2020, MIOSHA issued emergency COVID rules, laying out specific mitigation measures, helping businesses keep patrons and their workplace safe,” Whitmer said. “These emergency rules had an expiration date of October 2021, meaning they would expire automatically unless formalized into permanent rules.”

MIOSHA has removed the requirement that employers must create a “policy prohibiting in-person work for employees to the extent that their work activities can feasibly be completed remotely.”

Employers can now allow fully vaccinated employees to work without face coverings or social distancing, as long as they have a policy to make sure non-vaccinated employees continue to wear masks and follow social distancing.

Workplace rules have been updated to eliminate industry-specific requirements and instead will more clearly reflect changes in close contact and quarantining requirements for fully vaccinated employees.

Whitmer said restaurants and bars can choose to reopen common areas, such as pool tables and dance floors.

Cleaning requirements have been updated to meet recommendations from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

Employers should continue to uphold a written COVID-19 preparedness and response plan, MIOSHA officials said.

Click here to read the full MIOSHA rules.

Michigan update

Whitmer also gave a brief overview of the COVID-19 and unemployment situations in Michigan and across the country.

“We’ve made remarkable progress in our battle with COVID-19,” Whitmer said. “Thanks to vaccines, life is really starting to get back to normal now.”

Whitmer said more than 60% of eligible adults have gotten their shots nationwide, including over 57% of Michiganders.

She said unemployment in Michigan is down to 4.9% -- a full percentage point below the national average, according to Whitmer.

“In the past year, unemployment has fallen by nearly 80%, and we’ve added 968,000 jobs over the last year,” the governor said.

Whitmer said the economic recovery is going well.

“Michigan and America are coming back, and we’re going to come back stronger than ever,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer recapped the new “MI Vacc To Normal” steps that will remove Michigan’s COVID restrictions in two steps on June 1 and July 1. You can read all about those details here.

“We continue to move toward normalcy as more and more Michiganders get vaccinated,” MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel said. “The updated CDC guidelines demonstrate just how safe and effective the COVID-19 vaccine truly is and how well it is working.”


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