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Whitmer requires masks in crowded outdoor spaces, business enforcement

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order Friday that requires masks to be worn in crowded outdoor spaces and any business open to the public to refuse service to people who won't wear face coverings with limited exceptions. 

Willful violations of the new order, which takes effect Monday, can bring misdemeanor penalties, potentially a $500 fine. It also says businesses that don't follow the requirement can have their licenses suspended.

Under the new order, people are required usually to wear masks when outdoors and "unable to consistently maintain a distance of 6 feet or more from individuals who are not members of their household."

In addition, businesses that are open to the public are banned from providing service and entry to customers "unless the customer is wearing a face covering as required by this order."

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer visits an emergency shelter for flood evacuees at Midland High School Wednesday.

"Masks can reduce the chance of spreading COVID-19 by about 70%," Whitmer said in a statement. "By wearing masks, we can save lives and protect our family, friends, and neighbors from the spread of COVID-19. 

"And by wearing masks now, we can put our state in a stronger position so our kids can return to school safely in the fall. For the sake of your loved ones, let’s all mask up, Michigan."

However, at least two police agencies posted letters on social media Friday that asked residents not to call them about mask complaints. And enforcing the new order will be a "potential nightmare" for stores, said Meegan Holland, spokeswoman for the Michigan Retailers Association, which represents thousands of businesses in the state. The retailers association would rather see the enforcement done by local police, Holland said.

In May, a security guard at a Family Dollar store in Flint was shot and killed after a dispute over denying entry to someone who wasn't wearing a mask.

“What a time to be penalizing business when they’re just trying to get by during a pandemic," Holland said. "That makes no sense.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said the order was well intended but would put employees in the "precarious and sometimes danger position of enforcement."

"Are police officers going to arrest those not wearing a mask?" Shirkey asked. "And as with any fine, it is those who can least afford it that will likely be penalized the most."

The governor's announcement came a day after she hinted that her administration would take action to further encourage Michigan residents to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic as new cases of the virus rise here.

There are exemptions to the new requirements, including children who are younger than 5 years old, people who cannot medically tolerate face coverings, individuals who are eating or drinking at restaurants and people who are exercising.

No individual is subject to penalty under the order "for removing a mask while engaging in religious worship at a house of religious worship," it says.

The retailers association questioned Friday how workers would know whether someone who wasn't wearing a mask had a medical condition, Holland said.

At a Thursday press conference in Lansing, Whitmer suggested people who oppose masks wear ones with political statements printed on them that say, "I hate masks." And she emphasized the state’s current policy requires people to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces. 

“We are reviewing that requirement and considering whether or not we need to take this a step further to strengthen compliance,” she said. "Because we cannot let our guard down."

The governor made the comments as health officials cautioned that Michigan is nearing a "tipping point" with the spread of COVID-19 and as this week is on pace to bring the most new cases of the virus since May.

"Michigan's fight against COVID-19 is nowhere near over, which is why it’s so important that we all do our part and wear masks when we’re out in public," said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive.

But, in letters posted on social media, the police chiefs of Bad Axe and Sandusky asked residents not to contact their departments about complaints concerning violations of the new mask requirements.

The letters say Whitmer has issued more than 100 executive orders and it has become confusing what's enforceable and what isn't. The chiefs also directed people to contact Attorney General Dana Nessel's Office.

A July 10, 2020, letter from Bad Axe's police chief asks people not to contact his departments about people possibly violating Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's new executive order requiring masks to be worn in businesses.

Police agencies that might be confused over the executive orders may reach out to Whitmer's office or Nessel's office for clarification and guidance, along with county prosecutors, Nessel's spokesman Ryan Jarvi said.

"Local police agencies and county prosecutors are still the most appropriate authorities to deal with violations of the executive orders as they are present in the communities they police and deal with complaints about violations of the law each and every day," Jarvi said. "We trust those professionals to use their authority and discretion in addressing reports of executive order violations."

Whitmer's order puts officers in an "awkward position" because some of their residents want it strictly enforced and others don't, said Bob Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.

Some departments are planning to respond to calls from stores about customers refusing to wear masks by potentially issuing trespassing tickets, Stevenson said.

In another Friday development, Whitmer announced a donation of personal protective equipment from the Kingdom of Jordan arrived in Michigan. The shipment included overalls, surgical masks and goggles, and a shipment of N95 masks is expected to follow, according to the governor's office.

In total, Jordan is donating 650,000 surgical masks,10,000 medical overalls and 10,000 sets of eye goggles, a press release said.

The contributions will replenish hospitals' depleted supplies of equipment as Michigan continues "to flatten the curve," Whitmer said.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

ABOUT NEW WHITMER ORDER

What it does: The order requires any indoor business open to the public to enforce Michigan's requirement to wear a mask to stop the spread of COVID-19. It also requires people to wear masks outdoors if they can't consistently maintain 6 feet of space between themselves and other people.

When it takes effect: 12:01 a.m. Monday.

Penalties for violations: Willful violations can result in misdemeanor penalties, potentially a $500 fine. Businesses that don't enforce the requirement can have their licenses suspended.