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Warren — The mayor of Michigan's third-largest city sent a letter to businesses Wednesday warning police will start cracking down on violations of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive order mandating people maintain social distancing and wear masks in stores during the coronavirus crisis.

Mayor Jim Fouts said he's been inundated recently with emails and text messages from residents who are concerned about businesses that aren't enforcing social distancing, or requiring employees and customers to wear masks, which is in violation of Whitmer's executive orders that were implemented to stop the virus from spreading.

"I will be instructing the Warren Police Department to conduct patrols of our retail areas to enforce compliance with these rules and conduct enforcement of all provisions including the issuance of warnings and/or citations for repeated failures to comply," Fouts wrote in the two-page letter.

"I understand that this may pose a hardship on some businesses, but such a hardship is insignificant when compared to the threat posed to our community, particularly our senior citizens and those with pre-existing conditions, by COVID-19," Fouts wrote.

The mayor told The Detroit News Wednesday he thought his letter was "a common-sense approach."

"I don't think I put anything unreasonable in the letter," he said. "Whether people like it or not, they have to follow the governor's executive orders, and they have to maintain social distancing and wear masks."

Republican lawmakers argue Whitmer's order doesn't have legal standing. They insist her emergency powers expired after 28 days, and would have needed legislative approval to continue. 

On Tuesday, state Attorney General Dana Nessel advised police to enforce Whitmer's orders, after questions had been raised about their legality. But GOP lawmakers responded Wednesday by filing a Court of Claims lawsuit that calls for restrictions on Whitmer's emergency powers.

While that battle rages, Fouts said he's focused on protecting his constituents and people who work in Warren.

"I’m not at war with any of the business, but I look at the employees as front-line heroes, and we need to protect them," he told The News. "People in retail are as essential as first responders; everyone needs food and medicine, and things to keep our households going."

Fouts said he received a text message from a resident complaining about the lackadaisical enforcement of social distancing rules. 

"... the store was packed with 4 times the normal amount of people, and a lot of people weren't wearing masks," the text message said, according to Fouts. "With that going on in stores, we're going to get a bigger COVID-19 outbreak."

In his letter, Fouts wrote: "Many residents are concerned about their safety, but still must go to stores for food and other essential needs. These residents have a right to feel safe, and to be safe, when coming into your facility.

"That is why I ask you to enforce the rule to have your employees all wear masks and require that customers do so as well, in addition to abiding by all other safety provisions," the letter said.

"I think if you follow these guidelines you will have more (consumers) wanting to patronize your business when you put employee and customer safety first," Fouts wrote.

ghunter@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2134

Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN

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