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Lansing — An order issued Wednesday by the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services allows visitors to enter hospitals again as long as precautions are taken.

In a move to stem the spread of COVID-19 in health care facilities, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer first restricted visitors' access in March.

"Sometimes a visitor can be just the medicine a hospitalized patient needs to help them through their recovery," said Robert Gordon, the state's health department director. “As long as strong precautions are taken to help ensure the health and safety of visitors, patients and staff, this order allows for exceptions to those restrictions."

The new order says hospitals, outpatient clinics and doctor’s offices may permit visitors to enter if they limit visitors to designated entrances that allow for proper screening and require visitors to wear masks. The facilities must also permit visitation "only during select hours" and limit the number of visitors per patient, the order says.

The facilities also must perform a health evaluation on all individuals who seek to enter, according to the new order. They must restrict visitation to a patient’s room.

The new order gives hospitals flexibility as they craft their own visitor policies going forward, said John Karasinski, spokesman for the Michigan Health & Hospital Association.

"Given that COVID-19 is still very present in Michigan, we expect and have encouraged hospitals to actively monitor their local capacity to accommodate additional visitors and update their policies accordingly," he added.

Whitmer has begun rolling back many restrictions that were meant to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus in the state as the number of new cases and deaths linked to it have declined in recent weeks.

The governor lifted Monday the state's stay-at-home order, which had been in place since March 24.

"By rolling back executive orders, and allowing more people to visit their loved ones in hospitals, it sends a clear signal we are making progress in the fight against COVID-19 and continue to move in a positive direction," Whitmer said in a Wednesday statement.

In addition, the governor announced that emergency changes that weakened the state's open records law would end June 11.

On April 5, the governor signed an order to ease the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act to help government agencies dealing with the pandemic. Under her changes, agencies could delay providing a response to a records request if COVID-19 response efforts, "including but not limited to compliance with any emergency order or mitigation recommendations related to COVID-19," interfere.

The original order allowed for delays in responding to requests until Thursday.

On Wednesday, Whitmer extended the order through June 10 but said it would be lifted on June 11.

The original order easing the state open records law was the subject of a court challenge by a Saginaw County civil rights attorney who said it was used at all levels of government to delay the disclosure of documents.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

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