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Michigan Mandates Face Masks in Public Spaces, Private Businesses

— July 10, 2020

Michiganders who refuse to comply with the order could be charged with a misdemeanor.

Michigan has become the latest state to order residents to wear face masks both in public spaces and inside of privately-owned businesses.

Non-compliance with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order, says, could lead to misdemeanor charges or fines up to $500.

“The heroes on the front lines of this crisis have gone hours without taking their masks off every day—doctors, nurses, childcare workers, grocery store workers,” Gov. Whitmer said on Friday. “We owe it to them to wear our masks when we’re on a trip to the grocery store of pharmacy.”

Whitmer explained that studies suggest that mask usage massively limits the likelihood that a coronavirus-infected individual will infect other people in their vicinity.

“Masks can reduce the chance of spreading COVID-19 by about seventy percent,” she said. “By wearing masks, we can save the 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.

Current Michigan Gov. and former Ford School faculty Gretchen Whitmer delivering a speech in 2015. Image via Flickr/user:FordSchool. (CCA-BY-2.0).

“For the sake of your loved ones,” Whitmer said, “let’s all mask up, Michigan.” notes that Gov. Whitmer had earlier ordered Michiganders to wear masks inside. But that rendition of the order did not mandate any penalty for offenders.

Her latest order now requires people to wear masks in outdoor public spaces, and has added the possibility of misdemeanor charges and a fine for non-compliance.

Additionally, all businesses open to the public must refuse entry and service to people who refuse to wear masks or other face coverings; businesses are also required to post notices at entry points informing customers of their legal obligations to wear a mask, as detailed by Gov. Whitmer’s order.

However, there are several exemptions to the mask mandate: children under age five, persons with select medical conditions, and people eating or drinking at food-serving establishments are not required to wear masks.

Bill Hallan, the CEO of the Michigan Retailers Association, said he appreciated Whitmer’s efforts to increase mask usage but said the new order “puts retail employees in potentially dangerous situations when they’re force to confront unmasked customers.”

Michigan—along with other states—has recorded a small number of violent incidents, wherein customers have berated, physically assaulted, or even killed employees trying to enforce mask mandates. Earlier this year, a Flint security guard was murdered after refusing a woman entry to a Family Dollar.

Hallan said the exemptions to the mask order present problems in business’s ability to determine “the validity of an ambiguous exemption.”

“Even retailers acting in good faith could be subject to severe licensing sanctions based on the actions of noncompliant customers,” Hallan said.

However, several large, Michigan-based businesses have already announced that they will begin enforcing Gov. Whitmer’s order. Kroger, for instance, told the Detroit Free Press that “we will be following the new order and are currently working through our plan.”

Meijer, headquartered in Grand Rapids, said it would also prioritize enforcement.

“All Meijer customers must now wear a face covering or face mask when shopping at any Meijer store or Meijer Express station in Michigan,” said Frank J. Guglielmi, Meijer’s senior director of communications. “We understand that some customers have medical conditions that prevent them from wearing face coverings, and we will follow the governor’s latest order on who is exempt from this requirement.”

Nevertheless, other industry-interest groups questioned how they would be able to enforce the mandate when anyone can claim to have a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask. National Federation of Independent Business-Michigan Director Charlie Owens, speaking to the Free Press, said the governor’s penalties for businesses raise troubling questions about companies’ ability to follow the state’s order.

“Is the business-owner going to have find the customer after the fact and get a doctor’s note to avoid the penalty?” Owens asked. “Are they going to have to guess who is exempt and who is not?”


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