Gov. Whitmer orders crackdown on COVID-19 violators

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive directive Tuesday, telling state departments, including the Michigan State Police, to make enforcing COVID-19 restrictions "a priority."

The three-page directive says the State Police "must enforce violations of COVID-19 executive orders" in the same manner "it would enforce any other violation of law, using enforcement discretion as appropriate."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently provides an update on COVID-19 in Michigan. With her is MDHHS Chief Deputy for Health and Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, right.

In the directive, Whitmer cited Michigan's rising count of COVID-19 cases and said enforcement of the orders "is a key part of ensuring that the resumption of activities does not contribute to the spread of this virus."

"Without effective enforcement, we will move backwards," the governor added. "Individuals, businesses and the economy will all suffer."

On Tuesday, Michigan's overall COVID-19 case count hit 84,050. While deaths and hospitalizations linked to the virus have remained relatively low, new cases have been trending upward since June, raising concerns among health officials.

In June, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported 6,573 new COVID-19 cases. In July, the department reported 17,751 new cases.

In recent weeks, Whitmer has issued orders to try to stem the spread of the virus, requiring businesses to ensure masks are worn by customers and limiting indoor social gatherings to 10 people statewide.

The governor's July 10 mask order instituted misdemeanor penalties and $500 fines for violators.

Ensuring the governor’s executive orders are enforced is "necessary to slowing the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives," the governor's office said in a news release Tuesday.

"This fight is not over yet," Whitmer said in the release. "During the month of July, we saw an increase in positive COVID-19 cases in every region of the state.

"By allocating the appropriate and needed resources, we can continue to save lives and ensure we don’t have to move backward."

Whitmer's directives have prompted pushback from some law enforcement officials.

In the past week, the Clare County sheriff took to Facebook to decry what he sees as inconsistencies in Whitmer's executive orders that granted freedoms to some regions and industries but restrictions on others posing a similar or lower risk for spreading the coronavirus. He expressed frustration with what he called "unconstitutional bull----."

Sheriff John Wilson said his Facebook post was in response to two Whitmer orders that opened Detroit's three casinos at 15% capacity while a Clare County youth livestock auction was nearly canceled because of ongoing restrictions. 

The Michigan State Police "absolutely" intends "to comply with today’s executive directive," spokeswoman Shanon Banner said. 

"The directive reaffirms the enforcement posture we have used since the beginning of the pandemic. Our troopers will continue to enforce all of the executive orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan," Banner said.

Under the governor's new directive, agency heads must assign "elevated priority" to enforcement of COVID-19-related laws in places where transmission is well-documented, including nursing homes, meat processing plants and agricultural housing, according to a press release. 

The new directive also says departments must consider violations of COVID-19 policies when determining eligibility for licensing.

Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed.