Detroit Chamber conference to feature masks, 'comfort level' wrist bands

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

The Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference will occur later this month despite rising COVID-19 infection rates in Michigan, but the event will feature a mask  mandate for attendees in certain places and other safety measures, organizers said Thursday.

The protocols for the annual gathering of business and political leaders will include mask requirements in areas of the conference, said Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the chamber. The organization has previously announced that participants must be vaccinated to attend and that overall attendance capacity had been lowered 30% from about 1,700 to about 1,200.

"The conference is on. The chamber has been proceeding for months now. ... We have not ever considered canceling it," Baruah said. "But we have been focused on ensuring that we are employing all the right protocols to keep Michigan's leadership safe."

A document from the Detroit Regional Chamber provides information on "changes to the 2021 Mackinac Policy  Conference experience in order to prepare you for arrival."

Baruah added that the Sept. 20-23 conference at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island will feature wrist bands that display what attendees' "comfort level is with human contact."

"If you're wearing a green band, that means, 'Hey, I'm open to shaking hands or giving you a hug,'" Baruah said. "A yellow band will mean, 'You can give me a chicken wing, an elbow bump, a fist bump or something like that.' Red means, 'Hey, thrilled to see you but I am going to stay away.'"

The event's theme is "Re-imagining a Healthy Michigan." Baruah and Wright Lassiter III, president and CEO of the Henry Ford Health System and chairman of the 2021 Mackinac Policy Conference, said the chamber had found support and enthusiasm for holding the upcoming event.

"I think this conference is maybe being seen, sort of, as a beacon of hope around the ability for us to still be safe but modify practices that still allow us to do things that we were used to doing before the pandemic occurred," Lassiter said.

Wright Lassiter III is the president and CEO of Henry Ford Health System.

The Detroit-based health system leader said organizers are cautiously optimistic that Michigan won't be as severely impacted by the delta COVID-19 variant as other states have been in recent weeks.

Michigan's COVID-19 infection numbers have been rising steadily for longer than a month, but the increases have been slower than past surges of the virus.

The upcoming conference will feature keynote addresses from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, a discussion on the future of the Republican Party, a speech by Mark Reuss, president of General Motors Co., and a discussion with Douglas Brinkley, a CNN presidential historian.

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, has said he won't officially attend the conference because he is not vaccinated. Baruah said on Thursday, the chamber didn't have a count yet on how many legislators will be in attendance.