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Stay-home order violators face $500 fines; jail possible

Lansing — Following the lead of other Midwestern states, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's "Stay Home, Stay Safe" executive order requiring businesses in the state to suspend in-person operations began at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday and is in effect through April 13 to help stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

Exemptions to the order include "critical infrastructure" workers and efforts needed to continue businesses' "minimal basic operations." Schools also will remain closed through April 13.

Michigan residents are ordered to stay in their homes unless they're “critical infrastructure workers.” People can still leave for outdoor activities, to care for family members, perform necessary government activities and obtain necessary supplies such as groceries or medicine.

The order came about three hours before the state released new data, confirming an almost 300-case jump in confirmed positive COVID-19 tests, putting the total at 1,328. Fifteen people have died in Michigan after testing positive for the virus, Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said. 

Neighboring Midwest states such as Illinois, Ohio and Indiana announced similar orders in recent days but gave at least 24 hours' notice before the order was to take effect. Michigan's directive came less than 13 hours before implementation.

The Birmingham movie theater, in downtown Birmingham, is closed due to the coronavirus, March 23, 2020.

“The goal here is simple: Stay home. Stay safe. Save lives," Whitmer said during a Monday live-streamed press event. "This will be temporary. This intervention is important to buy time so we can create surge capacity in our hospitals, so we can ramp up testing and develop therapeutic drugs that may lower hospitalization and fatality rates.

“It's been observed: If it were possible to wave a magic wand and make all Americans freeze in place for 14 days, 6 feet away from one another, the whole epidemic would sputter to a halt. It's on all of us to do our part."

Read more:Homeland Security advisory on essential workers

Without the stay-at-home order, current models project 70% of the state's population of nearly 10 million could become infected, with 1 million people hospitalized, Whitmer said. The state has roughly 25,000 acute care beds. 

Federal resources recently sent to the state were frustratingly sparse, she said, with an allotment for one hospital "barely enough to cover one shift."

In this photo provided by Gov. Whitmer's office, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signs the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Executive Order (EO 2020-21), directing all Michigan businesses and operations to temporarily suspend in-person operations that are not necessary to sustain or protect life.

The current trajectory, she said, "looks a lot like Italy," which has become the European hot zone for COVID-19 cases.

"When we look back at this, we’ve got to be able to say we did everything we could," Whitmer said. 

Physicians are "grateful" for the governor's order, said Dr. Mohammed Arsiwala, president of the Michigan State Medical Society. 

"Supplies are scarce. Testing kits are limited. COVID-19 is highly contagious, and cases in Michigan and around the country are rising," Arsiwala said. "Staying home helps Michigan physicians and our health care system better fight back."

Penalties for violations

Businesses that do not comply with the order will be fined or shuttered, the governor said. Whitmer said there will be no "checkpoints."

The governor said a "willful" or deliberate violation would be a misdemeanor. The penalty for a misdemeanor is $500 and/or up to 90 days in jail, said Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a spokeswoman for Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

"Don’t play fast and loose with what is essential and what is not," Whitmer said. "Don’t try to skirt the rules."

Michigan State Police Lt. Michael Shaw said Whitmer’s order “isn’t a lock-down. This isn’t martial law.”

Martial law is when the governor deploys an organized militia or military troops to maintain order in a city or county.

“This isn’t meant to lock people up in jail, but it’s important to know this does carry the weight of a misdemeanor,” said Shaw, adding businesses that don't comply could lose their licenses. 

“Like we do anyway, we allow our troopers a lot of discretion,” he said. “So we’d most likely have a conversation with someone first, before giving them a ticket; maybe they don’t understand the seriousness of the situation.”

Shaw said he hasn’t heard of any violations of the governor’s order last week shutting down bars, gyms, restaurants and other gathering spots. 

The lifting of the stay-at-home order on April 13 will depend on testing numbers, compliance with the executive order and hospitals' capacity to test, isolate and treat those infected, Whitmer said. She emphasized that grocery stores, restaurant take-out, pharmacies and gas stations will remain open. 

"Do not panic. Do not hoard. These services will remain open," she said. 

'Critical infrastructure' workers allowed

Critical infrastructure workers are defined as those in the fields of health care, law enforcement, public safety, food and agriculture, energy, water and wastewater, transportation, communications, other community-based government operations, critical manufacturing, hazardous materials, financial services, chemical supply chains and defense industrial base.

The order also exempts child care workers, those employed by “designated suppliers and distribution centers,” workers in the insurance industry and those who “perform critical labor union functions.”

There are exemptions from the penalty for places of religious worship and exemptions that allow businesses to maintain minimum basic operations. 

Earlier Monday, Michigan Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Rich Studley said he had spoken with administration officials in the morning regarding the order. He said the directive was not expected to be the equivalent of the "blunt instruments" used in states on the East and West coasts when they had sudden upticks in cases. 

"I think what we’re going to see from the governor later this morning is a very measured, very thoughtful and very considered order," Studley said.

But after the 11 a.m. Monday announcement, Studley said Whitmer's order was not identical to the one that had been outlined to business leaders. The Michigan Chamber's team is still reviewing the governor's signed directive.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

A major labor union welcomed Whitmer's decision.

"The difficult decision by Gov. Whitmer and other governors to issue stay at home orders will in fact not only save lives but speed up the timetable to get our workforce back up and running at capacity," United Auto Workers President Rory Gamble said in a statement. "The sooner we can limit exposure and ‘flatten the curve,' the sooner all American’s can go back to work, school and our daily normal routines. It’s a tough decision, but a necessary one.”

Other states' orders

In recent days, Whitmer's answers on a potential stay-at-home order have shifted as the number of coronavirus cases in Michigan has grown. On Thursday — when the state had 334 confirmed cases — Whitmer told The Detroit News she wasn't considering such an order.

When asked about it on Sunday morning — when the state would later that day report 1,035 confirmed cases — Whitmer said things were "moving fast."

"We are always evaluating," she said during an interview on "Fox News Sunday." "We've got an ongoing debate about what the next step is, and I would anticipate additional steps being taken."

Illinois and Ohio have already barred non-essential business and travel in their states.

Whitmer has been working closely with the governors of Illinois and Ohio as all three states have taken similar steps to combat the virus.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued his state's stay-at-home order on Friday. It says people in Illinois can only leave their homes for "essential activities, essential governmental functions or to operate essential businesses and operations."

On Sunday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued his state's order, which featured similar language. Both orders allow businesses to continue "minimum basic operations."

Beverly Hills Penn Station East Coast Subs workers Jason Wiliams and Mia Zarka work in an empty dining room as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issues a "Stay Home, Stay Safe" executive order during a television appearance, Monday, March 23, 2020.   The Beverly Hills restaurant has seen a 50% drop in business they said.

Ohio's order included 25 types of "essential" businesses that can continue operating. The Illinois order included 24 types.

The order in Michigan appears to require businesses to do more to prove that they have to maintain minimum basic operations or qualify for exemptions.

Michigan lawmakers react

U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell, a Dryden Republican, opposes the stay-at-home order, fearing it will create more confusion among the public and cause some people to overreact. 

“You need to let businesses and individuals make decisions about what they need to do to take care of themselves. We lead people. We don’t direct people. We don’t order people,” Mitchell said. “I think a stay-home or shelter-in-place order is a step too far, rather than taking a breath in seven to 10 days to see what the circumstances are.”

Mitchell said he spoke to Whitmer late Saturday afternoon and advised her such an order would do further damage to the already struggling economy.

“What I advised the governor to do was particularly to reinforce what’s necessary to keep themselves safe and prevent the spread to people who are particularly vulnerable,” Mitchell said. 

Mitchell, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, is worried that Whitmer’s order would discourage some employees from going to work at crucial businesses, such as defense contractors and others. 

He said he visited his local Home Depot twice on Sunday and talked to folks picking up supplies for home-improvement projects, all while abiding by social-distancing guidelines and wearing protective gloves. 

“We aren’t going to achieve more compliance (with public health guidelines) by this order, but we are going to create more confusion and a great deal more panic,” Mitchell said.

But U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Dearborn Democrat, said she supports Whitmer’s stay-home order. 

“We need to stay at home. Too many people haven’t taken it seriously. When you see pictures of people at bars and beaches, it shows there’s people endangering others in our community,” Dingell said in a Monday interview. 

“Essential workers are allowed, and people need to be able to get groceries and go to drug stores. All of us need to play the role that we have to play, and for some if that means sitting on a couch, they can do it.” 

Dingell on Facebook urged her constituents to heed the advice of public health experts to stay at home and avoid mingling with others to stem the virus’ spread. She said she hasn’t left her home in a week except for a 6 a.m. walk Sunday morning where she saw “nobody.” 

U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, a Zeeland Republican and small business owner, said he supports the stay-home order. “It does get people’s attention, and this is a genuine health care crisis,” he said.

“It’s been surprising to me how many families are still talking about going away for spring break and all these things they’re still doing. There’s people still getting together. It’s just been surprising to me the number of folks who seemingly aren’t taking this seriously,” Huizenga said. “It’s a necessity in my estimation based on the health care systems and where they sit today. We needed to do this.” 

Carol Kozlow wears a mask while taking a walk on Old Woodward in a deserted downtown Birmingham, March 23, 2020.

While Whitmer in her remarks panned the federal government for its lack of initiative on this front, Huizenga noted there won’t be a national stay-home order because these restrictions need to go state by state. 

“That’s why it was puzzling and a bit disappointing — the governor’s statement about a lack of a national comprehensive plan and the states doing more,” Huizenga said. “Well, that’s our system. What makes sense in Michigan may not make sense in North Dakota.”

cmauger@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer George Hunter contributed.