State hikes fine to $1K for violations of stay-home order; licensing sanctions possible

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

People in violation of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order and other executive actions could face fines of up to $1,000 and businesses could see licensing penalties, according to a new emergency order from the director of the state health department.

The order comes as the state recorded more than 10,000 cases and 417 deaths Thursday afternoon and as state leaders pointed to studies showing an asymptomatic person could spread the virus without knowing they had it.  

“The only way to stop the spread is social distancing,” said Robert Gordon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, in a statement. “A civil penalty and potential licensing actions send a strong message to Michiganders that social distancing is essential to saving lives.”

The order increases penalties for violations of specific executive orders from Whitmer: Namely, the prohibition on assemblies of more than 50, the closure of schools, the ban on the use of public accommodation such as restaurants and bars, and the governor’s stay-at-home order prohibiting travel, gatherings and in-person non-essential work. 

Prior to the order from MDHHS, violations of any of the Whitmer's edicts were to be treated as misdemeanors punishable by jail time and a $500 criminal fine. 

That recourse still will be available to prosecutors, but the new order also provides for civil sanctions up to $1,000 civil penalty and possible action against an establishment’s state license. 

The $1,000 fine can apply to each violation or each day that the violation occurs, according to the emergency order. 

Law enforcement agencies across the state are coordinating and authorized to investigate violations of the rules and will work with health departments to enforce them, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Police can “bar access to businesses and operations that fail to comply,” the department said in a statement. County prosecutors also can enforce the order “to control the epidemic and protect the public health.” 

“There is not a vaccine or a recognized treatment for COVID-19 and our health care system is being severely taxed by this pandemic,” said Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun in a statement. “We need people to heed the Stay Home, Stay Safe order as well as other orders issued by the governor to protect the health and safety of all Michiganders.”

Whitmer last month amended her order prohibiting gatherings of more than 50 people to exempt church assemblies from the penalty associated with violations. The MDHHS rules uphold that penalty exemption.