From custody agreements to construction: What you need to know about Michigan’s stay at home order

Susan J. Demas

As of 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, Michigan is under a stay at home order to stop the spread of COVID-19, the disease from a new coronavirus. It is set to expire at 11:59 p.m. April 13.

Michigan had 1,328 positive cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by a new coronavirus, as of Monday afternoon, although state officials believe the actual number of cases is much higher. Fifteen people have died.

Under the executive order, individuals will temporarily need to stay at home or at their place of residence. All public and private gatherings elsewhere will be prohibited. Individuals may only leave their house for outdoor activities (while maintaining a 6-foot distance from others); performing tasks that are necessary to their health and safety, like picking up medications or addressing a medical emergency; and to obtain necessary services or supplies, like groceries, take-out food, gasoline, etc.

Similar orders are in place in other states, including Ohio, California, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut and Louisiana.

This is the most serious action Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has taken to date to combat COVID-19. Businesses that don’t comply face a $500 fine and 90 days in jail. And many people have questions.

The governor’s office has issued a question-and-answer guidance to clarify what businesses can be open, how child custody agreements work, what employees are considered critical infrastructure employees and more under Executive Order 2020-21:

Q: Does in-person work that is essential to sustain or protect human life also include in-person work to prevent severe psychological harm?

A: Yes

Q: Are car dealerships open?

A:  Auto sales are closed, but auto repair and maintenance can remain open subject to limitations.

Q: Are childcare workers considered critical infrastructure employees?

A: Childcare workers are considered critical infrastructure workers, but only to the extent necessary to serve the children or dependents of critical infrastructure workers.

Q: How does this order impact my custody agreement?

A: Individuals may also travel as required by law enforcement or a court order, including the transportation of children pursuant to a custody agreement. Court-ordered parent-child visits and caseworker visits continue, but these visits must not always be in person. Alternatives including telephone and videoconference are acceptable. The only time that an in-person visit is required is when we believe that child safety is at stake.

Whitmer signs ‘stay at home’ order, warns businesses not to ‘play fast and loose’ with public health

Q: Are bicycle shop employees considered critical infrastructure for purposes of Executive Order 2020-21?

A: In general, no. Workers at bicycle repair shops can be designated as critical infrastructure workers only if they provide maintenance for bicycles that other critical infrastructure workers use to get to their jobs.

Q: Are people who repair homes considered critical infrastructure employees for the purposes of Executive Order 2020-21?

In general, yes. Under the order, critical infrastructure workers include workers “who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences.” To the extent your workers perform jobs that are necessary to the safety, sanitation and operation of homes, they may be designated as critical infrastructure workers.

Many businesses already closed before the stay at home order, like this MSU Credit Union branch in downtown Lansing, March 21, 2020 | Susan J. Demas

Q: Are hotels and motels to remain open Executive Order 2020-21?

A: In general, hotels and motels may remain open, but must limit functions and operations.

Under the order, workers at hotels and motels are critical infrastructure workers to the extent they “provide temporary or permanent housing for… shelter … for … otherwise needy individuals.” For purposes of the order, the term “otherwise needy individuals” includes anyone residing in a hotel or motel at the time the order was issued or anyone seeking shelter during the current pandemic. Hotels and motels may also remain open to the extent they are used for COVID-19 mitigation and containment efforts and to serve critical infrastructure workers.

Hotels and motels may therefore remain open, but they may only engage in activities providing shelter and basic needs (such as carry-out/delivery/room-service food) and, in engaging in those activities, they must limit guest-to-guest, guest-to-staff, and staff-to-staff interactions as much as possible and must adopt all other mitigation measures required. They may not provide additional in-house amenities such as gyms, pools, spas, entertainment faculties, meetings rooms or like facilities, or provide in-house dining.

Q: Is construction allowed under the executive order?

A: Some limited forms of construction are permissible, including construction to maintain and improve essential public works like roads, bridges, the telecommunications infrastructure, and public health infrastructure. Construction workers may also undertake such projects as necessary to maintain and improve the safety, sanitation and essential operations of residences. In addition, businesses may designate construction firms to provide necessary support to the work of the businesses’ critical infrastructure workers. All construction work that is carried out while the order is in effect must be done in accordance with the mitigation measures required.

Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.