After court strikes down Whitmer’s orders, DHHS reinstates mask mandates, group gathering limits

DHHS Director Robert Gordon, July 26, 2019 | Nick Manes

The state Supreme Court may have shut down Gov. Gretchen Whitmer from implementing executive orders during the pandemic Friday, but the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has issued its own emergency order under the public health code which largely reinstates the governor’s orders. 

“Our actions today flow from a legal authority that was not at issue in Friday’s case,” said DHHS Director Robert Gordon during a press conference Monday.

Gordon added that DHHS does not “aim to do more than the governor already did.”

However, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) said he is “dismayed” by the latest order from DHHS.

“The governor could hardly wait to attempt an end-run around the Supreme Court,” Shirkey said. “The threat of COVID is real.  The best way to help keep our citizens safe and our state productive is for the Legislature and the governor to work together to forge a path forward.  The Supreme Court intends for us to work together. It’s too bad Governor Whitmer isn’t listening.”

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The emergency order requires individuals to wear masks when in gatherings, requires businesses and government offices to enforce facial coverings and requires masks in schools, except for in the Traverse City region, which has the lowest COVID-19 growth rate.

The order also puts size limits on group gatherings and venue capacity.

In venues with fixed seating, attendance must be limited to 20% of normal capacity and 25% of normal capacity in the Traverse City region. In venues without fixed seating, attendance must be limited to 20 people per 1,000 square feet in each occupied room and 25 people per 1,000 square feet are permitted in the Traverse City region.

Non-residential outdoor gatherings of between 100 and 1,000 people at venues with fixed seating are limited to 30% of normal capacity and 30 people per 1,000 square feet at venues without fixed seating.

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“Since the court’s ruling on Friday, there have been a number of questions about what is and isn’t allowable,” Sen. Jim Ananich (D-Flint) said. “This epidemic order will help create continuity in our battle to keep Michiganders safe from the deadly pandemic. The person issuing the orders may have changed, but the severity of COVID-19 has not; Michiganders should keep doing the right thing by masking up, socially distancing, washing hands and staying safe.”

As of Monday, Michigan has 128,923 COVID-19 cases and 6,816 people have died from the virus.

Gordon said that one issue covered by Whitmer’s orders that is not in the department’s order is setting indoor capacity limits for bars and restaurants, allowing for bars to reopen for indoor service.

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Although the order does not close bars, it requires them to close indoor common areas where people can congregate, dance or otherwise mingle. Under Whitmer’s executive orders, indoor restaurants were limited to 50% capacity and banned indoor seating at venues that made more than 70% of their gross receipts from alcohol sales.

“The epidemic order that Director Gordon issued today is an important step to protect Michiganders across the state from the spread of COVID-19. Let’s all mask up and stay safe,” Whitmer said.