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Go easy on businesses if they can't find masks for workers, Nessel tells police

The Detroit News

A state order that employers provide masks for workers goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday, but the Michigan attorney general is asking law enforcement to consider "good faith efforts" of bosses who have been unable to provide face coverings for employees returning to work because of limited supplies.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's revised stay-at-home order, which also calls for anyone in enclosed, public spaces to wear a mask, was announced Friday. Michiganians can't be fined for failing to wear a face covering but businesses can refuse service to those without their mouth and nose covered, state officials said.

On Sunday, Nessel issued a statement that calls for law enforcement to be aware that masks are hard to come by.

“I know many business owners around the state are working hard to reopen and comply with the governor’s Executive Order," Nessel said. "Securing appropriate face coverings by the Monday deadline, though, appears to be a difficult task for some businesses given limited supplies.

"Therefore, I am asking our law enforcement partners around the state to consider the good faith efforts of businesses that have tried, but have been unsuccessful, in obtaining appropriate face coverings when deciding whether to take criminal enforcement action against a non-compliant business."

She urged employees "that can safely do so to use their own face coverings as protection" until businesses can comply.

"The governor’s order requires that each of us — businesses and employees — work together to safely and successfully reopen our economy," she said.  "We appreciate the cooperation of law enforcement, employers and employees as we strive to carefully and thoughtfully reopen our state, one step at a time.”

The revised stay-at-home order also requires people to cover their nose and mouth with homemade or non-medical grade face coverings when they enter stores, pharmacies or other public buildings. 

This action previously was a recommendation by the state.

DDOT received a $64.3 million grant to the Detroit Department of Transportation to help pay for transit operations, increased bus cleaning and providing personal protective equipment like masks and gloves to employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We need to save those medical-grade masks for our first responders, people on the front line,” Whitmer said at a news briefing announcing the order Friday, noting that includes surgical masks and N95 respirator masks.

"No one will be subject to criminal penalty for going without a mask, but face covering is crucial to protecting the public, and our critical employees."

Nessel's office said Friday there is no criminal penalty for failing to wear a face covering.

But businesses may refuse service, Whitmer said. She suggested people could use handkerchiefs, bandannas, scarfs or homemade cloth masks. 

Resident Jason Bauer said Friday morning he went to buy a drink at the Menards home improvement store next his business in Auburn Hills, where the security guard told him he couldn't enter without a mask. 

"He said we’re selling them for a buck, so I just bought one," Bauer said, noting he wasn't asked for a mask when he shopped at the Menards on Wednesday. 

"I understand. People shouldn’t be going out as much as they do anyway. It’s not going to kill anyone if they stay home a few more weeks," he added.

"If he had turned me away, I would have been upset, but it was nice they had masks available."

Grocery workers told Whitmer the "vast majority" of people are wearing masks in their stores, she said. 

"But there are those who don't. And some who do wear masks don't wear them properly, or some who wear masks think that it's either a mask or it's six feet (of distancing). It's both," Whitmer said.

"Just to cover your faces is one important step in addition to that six-foot radius, that is going to be so important to protecting us from the spread of COVID-19 growing again."

mburke@detroitnews.com