The new COVID-19 rules in Michigan, explained

The new COVID-19 rules in Michigan, explained

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced new COVID-19 rules and restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus -- here’s how they’ll affect you.

gov gretchen whitmer announces new rules to limit spread of covid in michigan

Photo: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announces new restrictions to curb spread of COVID-19 under state health department epidemic order at a press conference on Sunday, Nov. 15. Courtesy photo

By Kate Abbey-Lambertz and Nina Misuraca Ignaczak

After another week of record-breaking COVID-19 case totals, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a three-week period of tightened restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued an emergency epidemic order Sunday night that goes into effect at midnight Wednesday and limits social gatherings, calls for increased working from home and bans dine-in service at bars and restaurants. Called “a pause to save lives,” the order will remain in effect through Dec. 8.

Keep scrolling for all the details on how the MDHHS order affects businesses, schools and social gatherings. 

“We are in the worst moment of this pandemic to date,” Whitmer said Sunday. “The situation has never been more dire. We are at the precipice, and we need to take some action, because as the weather gets colder and people spend more time indoors, this virus will spread. More people will get sick and there will be more fatalities.”

The state recorded 44,019 cases for the week ending Saturday, breaking the previous record of 29,614 weekly cases, set one week prior. More than 8,300 people in Michigan have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic when probable deaths are included.

House and Senate Republicans were not consulted in developing the new order, according to Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey.

“We are disappointed that Gov. Whitmer chose to go it alone, again,” Shirkey said in a statement released during the press conference. “The Senate Republicans will continue working with our doctors and the medical community on ways we can combat this virus and are ready to work with the governor when she decides to work as a team to fight this virus.”

When asked why Republican lawmakers were not co-presenting the new order alongside her on Sunday, Whitmer responded that legislators have been included in weekly informational calls. She also noted that the Republican-led state Legislature has so far declined her request to codify a mask mandate

“The executive office has vested in it the ability to act swiftly under urgent circumstances. That’s where we are, we are using epidemic powers given to the Health and Human Services Director by the Michigan Legislature in reaction to the last pandemic,” Whitmer said. “The Michigan Supreme Court said these are the powers to use. That is what we are doing.”

Whitmer asked Michiganders to “double down, so we can avoid a stay-at-home order.”

“If we act now, we can save thousands of lives, we can keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed, keep our kids in school, keep businesses open, and eat in restaurants again,” Whitmer said. “Our hope is that … we will see a drastic improvement in our positivity rate and the sheer number we are seeing.”

Here’s what you need to know about the latest regulations under the MDHHS epidemic order:

What’s new in the latest COVID-19 order? How is it different from the stay-at-home order from the beginning of the pandemic?

The latest order is issued as an epidemic order under the authority of the MDHHS as opposed to the emergency orders issued in the spring by Gov. Whitmer. The Michigan Supreme Court struck down Whitmer’s authority to issue emergency orders on Oct. 12. 

Epidemic orders have “rest on the firm legal authority created by the Michigan Legislature after the Spanish Flu,” MDHHS Director Robert Gordon said in Sunday evening’s press conference. “Our actions now echo actions then.” Gordon has issued several such epidemic orders to replace Whitmer’s emergency orders.

COVID-19 cases rising in Michigan. From Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 update, Friday, Nov. 13.

The restrictions come as Michiganders prepare for atypical Thanksgiving celebrations, and for the first time restrict indoor gatherings to individuals in two households or less, with encouragement for households to form pods.

What businesses and activities must pause operations?

The latest order requires some schools and businesses to close to in-person gatherings and puts additional restrictions on others. Here’s what will no longer be allowed when the order goes into effect on Wednesday: 

  • In-person learning at high schools,
  • In-person classes and activities at colleges and universities,
  • In-person work at offices when work can be done from home,
  • Indoor dining at restaurants and bars,
  • Organized sports, except professional sports,
  • Theaters, movie theaters, stadiums, arenas,
  • Bowling centers, ice skating rinks, indoor water parks,
  • Bingo halls, casinos, arcades, and
  • Group fitness classes.

The order further notes that no gatherings are allowed at entertainment venues and recreational facilities, such as auditoriums, arenas, banquet halls, cinemas, conference centers, concert halls, sporting venues, stadiums, theaters, amusement parks, arcades, bingo halls, bowling alleys, casinos, night clubs, skating rinks, strip clubs, water parks and trampoline parks.

What is allowed to stay open? 

These businesses and gatherings are allowed to continue operating under the health department order:

  • Retail stores, 
  • Preschool through 8th grade (up to individual districts),
  • Childcare,
  • Manufacturing, construction,other work that is impossible to do remotely,
  • Public transit,
  • Hair salons, barber shops, other personal services,
  • Gyms and pools: for individual exercise, not group classes,
  • Restaurants and bars (outdoor dining, takeout and delivery),
  • Professional sports, without spectators and pursuant to other state guidelines,
  • Parks and outdoor recreation,
  • Funerals with up to 25 attendees,
  • Health care facilities, and
  • Places of worship.

The order notes that medical offices, veterinary clinics and other businesses have to have a system in place to make sure people (from different households) can remain 6 feet apart. It advises that the protocol must include a policy that patients wait in their cars before their appointments. 

Two-household gatherings and outdoor gatherings with up to 25 people are also still allowed. Masks are required in all instances. 

Can I host or attend indoor gatherings?

For the most part, group gatherings for social purposes are prohibited outside the home, and discouraged inside private homes. Residential gatherings cannot include more than 10 people, or people from more than two households.

The new state guidance advises you to avoid indoor gatherings if at all possible and limit any indoor gatherings to one other household only for the next three weeks while ensuring that each member of that household is practicing care. This means choosing one household and sticking with that household throughout the three-week order, not seeing different households on different days.

“Households are a major source of spread,” Gordon said.

Best practices for indoor gatherings outlined by the state also include:

  • Keep visits short,
  • Keep your mask on,
  • Use indoor voices (avoiding shouting or cheering),
  • Stay six feet apart, and
  • Don’t share utensils.

How should I form a pod?

To form a pod, you should select one other household that is not engaging in risky behaviors and has committed to following safety measures such as washing hands, wearing masks and minimizing trips outside of the home. You should choose one household to pod with and avoid other households for the duration of the order. Here is more guidance on how to form a pod.

Are outdoor gatherings allowed?

Outdoor gatherings are limited to 25 people or fewer under the epidemic order. At residential spaces, those people must be from no more than three households. 

At public venues without fixed seatings, a 25-person limit is still the max, with no more than 20 people per 1,000 square feet. If there is fixed seating at the venue, attendance is capped at 20% of the seating capacity up to 25 people. 

How does this affect Thanksgiving and holiday plans?

“If you are considering spending Thanksgiving with people outside of your household, I urge you to reconsider,” Whitmer said Sunday. “We all need to make short-term sacrifices for a long-term gain.”

“We know that some people will gather anyways, and odds are that some of these gatherings will spread COVID and contribute to the loss of loved ones,” she added. 

If your plans for Thanksgiving include an indoor celebration with more than one household, you will need to change them in order to follow the MDHHS order.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance for Thanksgiving celebrations last week. See more here.

Where do I have to wear a mask?

You must wear a face mask at all gatherings, inside or outside. Last week the CDC advised that wearing masks protects the wearer as well as others.

Organizers and operators of events, workplaces, businesses, schools and any other places where people gather must require all participants to wear masks and deny entry to anyone who refuses. An individual who is not wearing a face mask must state that they are covered by an exception.

Masks are strongly encouraged even for those who aren’t required to wear one, except in children under 2. Exceptions to the requirement include people who:

  • Cannot medically tolerate a mask,
  • Are drinking or eating at a restaurant or gathering,
  • Are exercising outdoors and can maintain 6 feet of distance from others,
  • Are swimming,
  • Are undergoing medical treatment that requires removing a mask,
  • Are communicating with someone where seeing the speakers’ mouth is essential (such as if a person is deaf),
  • Are working in public safety,
  • Are part of a religious service,
  • Or are giving a speech where the audience is at least 6 feet away. 

Do children have to wear face masks?

Child care facilities, schools and other organized gatherings of children must require masks for children ages two and up on school buses and other transportation. Children ages four and up must wear masks in hallways and common areas. Children five and up must wear masks in classrooms and when gathered in other indoor settings likes homes or cabins. 

Are schools open?

Under the latest order, high schools statewide will need to implement entirely remote learning. There is an exception for students who are English Language Learners or are in special education programs. 

For grades K-8, the public health order leaves the decision to hold in-person classes up to individual local health departments and school districts. 

Gatherings for sports and extracurricular activities are prohibited for grades K-12.

What is allowed? Gatherings “for the purpose of providing services to students in need, including food distribution, access to internet connectivity, physical and mental health care services and child care.”

The Detroit school district announced last week that all classes would be switching to remote learning starting Monday, until at least Jan. 11, “due to the rapid increase in the COVID-19 infection rate in Detroit.” 

What about colleges and universities?

College and universities cannot hold in-person classes, extracurriculars and events under the order. There are some particular allowances for organized sports that comply with additional MDHHS guidance — still, no spectators are allowed. 

Can I go to work?

The order leaves open work in occupations that cannot be done from home, such as manufacturing, construction, health care and some limited types of office work. The vast majority of office work must be remote. 

Can I go out to restaurants?

Restaurants and bars are allowed to remain open for outdoor dining, takeout and delivery. If you’re dining at a restaurant outdoors, you must have no more than six people per table, and tables must be spaced at least 6 feet apart. 

Can I get a haircut or other personal care service?

Salons, spas, tattoo and piercing parlors are allowed to remain open and places offering massages, tanning, and other personal care services. However, services that require removing face masks are prohibited. You must make an appointment, and businesses can’t let people gather in waiting areas. 

I can still go grocery shopping and to other stores, right?

Yes — retail stores are allowed to remain open (though check with individual stores for self-imposed closures or other restrictions).

According to the order, stores (as well as libraries and museums) can’t exceed 30% of fire marshal occupancy limits for gatherings. If maintaining 30% occupancy or less would mean the business had to close altogether, one person is allowed to enter at a time. 

Stores must have entry and checkout lines with markings indicating where people should stand to maintain 6 feet of distance. 

Will gyms be open?

Gyms will be open at 25% capacity for individual exercise only, with a minimum of 12 feet between each workout station. All group fitness classes are prohibited. Pools are also limited to 25% capacity.

Are organized sports still allowed?

Organized sports are suspended for three weeks. Professional or college sports that meet what Gordon termed “extraordinarily high standards for mitigation” may meet for practice and competition. Those standards include the enhanced testing regimen specified in the Additional Mitigation Measures for Safer Athletic Practice and Play without the use of Face Coverings section of MDHHS guidance on Additional Measures for Safer Athletic Practice and Play. Spectator gatherings are strictly prohibited during the three-week order. 

Can I attend or hold a funeral?

Yes. Funeral services are allowed with up to 25 participants. 

What gatherings require contact tracing? Do I have to share my personal information? 

Exercise facilities and personal care service providers (aka, spas, salons, masseuses, etc) aren’t allowed to open unless they track customer information to make contact tracing easier in the event someone tests positive for COVID-19. They must also deny entry to people who don’t provide names and phone numbers.

Providers of in-home services (like home repair and cleaning) must also keep records of client services and contact info. 

Earlier this month, the health department relaxed a requirement for restaurants and bars to deny entry to customers who refuse to share their information. Eateries are required to ask for customer info, and are encouraged to deny service to anyone who refuses, but they are not required to turn those customers away. 

How will the order be enforced?

The MDHHS order authorizes local health departments to enforce it with local law enforcement officers’ involvement, who can investigate potential violations. Violating the order is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 6 months, or a fine of not more than $200.00, or both.

“County public health departments and local law enforcement are primarily responsible for enforcement in their own communities and we hope they do so,” a spokeswoman for the Michigan Attorney General said Sunday night. “We stand ready to assist them in their efforts.”

A spokeswoman for the Detroit Health Department said Sunday that more specific guidance for the city would be forthcoming Monday.