5 big coronavirus orders from Gov. Whitmer thrown into question by recent court ruling

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer suffered a blow on Friday when the Michigan Supreme Court ruled she did not have the authority to declare a state of emergency under either of the two laws she has cited in issuing executive orders.

So what does that mean for the executive orders Michiganders have been living under since March?

It’s not clear, exactly, but Whitmer said in a statement on Friday her existing orders remain in effect for now.

“It is important to note that this ruling does not take effect for at least 21 days, and until then, my emergency declaration and orders retain the force of law,” Whitmer said.

“Furthermore, after 21 days, many of the responsive measures I have put in place to control the spread of the virus will continue under alternative sources of authority that were not at issue in today’s ruling.”

Whitmer has issued close to 200 executive orders throughout the pandemic governing things like how many people are allowed at social gatherings, hospital visitations, masks and business openings and closings. More than 40 of those orders remain in effect.

Whitmer’s current executive orders specify they are rooted in authority granted to her by the statutes the court has now struck down, throwing them into question.

Some are also backed up by epidemic orders from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services that tie back to a different statute allowing the director of that department to establish procedures to be followed during an epidemic.

The legislature expects to weigh in on the rules governing public health going forward, according to statements issued on Friday by Republican leaders.

While Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey called the order “great news,” he also noted, “This ruling does not alter our collective responsibility to protect ourselves and others by wearing masks, social distancing, and washing our hands.”

Here are big executive orders currently affecting the daily lives of Michigan residents:

1) The mask mandate

Michiganders are required to wear face coverings in public, indoor places under Executive Order 153. Masks are also required in outdoor places where attendees cannot maintain six feet of distance from one another and on public transportation.

This is also the order that puts requirements on businesses, saying they cannot assume a customer without a face covering is unable to medically tolerate a face covering and thus exempt from the order.

A willful violation of the order is a misdemeanor, but no jail time can be imposed for violating it.

Requiring masks has widespread approval from medical experts but has proven one of the most divisive of the governor’s orders.

2) Restaurants at 50% capacity

Restaurants reopened for indoor dining in June, but with limits in place.

Indoor dining spaces are limited to 50% of normal seating – plus all groups must be separated by 6 feet or more, per Executive Order 2020-184. The order also requires people to wear masks at all times, except when seated.

Related: Advice from Up North: QR codes, UV lights and more pointers, as Michigan restaurants reopen

The order includes a list of 20 requirements restaurants must follow. Other examples include making employees wear masks, closing self-serve spaces like drink stations and buffets, closing common areas where people can dance or mingle and requiring restaurants to close immediately if an employee shows symptoms of COVID-19.

Willful violation of the order is punishable by a misdemeanor.

3) Gathering limits

Gov. Whitmer had recently announced plans to relax the state’s restrictions on gatherings and crowd sizes. She issued an executive order on Sept. 25, that now likely won’t get the chance to take effect.

Currently, indoor gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited, but with some exceptions, like for schools conducting in-person classes. That number was slated to get bumped up on Oct. 9 to 20 people per 1,000 square feet as long as people wore masks.

The new executive order that was slated to go into effect on Oct. 9 also allowed indoor performance venues and stadiums to operate at 20% seating capacity, though indoor events could not host more than 500 people — they were previously maxed at 250.

Outdoor venues were also slated to get a reprieve. They could host 30 people per 1,000 square feet or 30% seating capacity, up to 1,000 people in the largest outdoor spaces. Outdoor venues were capped at 500.

Crowd sizes at high school sports competitions would have been determined by the venue’s size, with indoor venues in Regions 1-5 and 7 allowed to hold 20 percent of their seating capacity up to 500 spectators, and indoor venues in Regions 6 and 8 able to be at 25 percent capacity. Outdoor athletic venues across the state would have been allowed to hold 30 percent of their seating capacity up to 1,000 spectators.

The order invokes the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act and the Emergency Management Act as authority for their power. Both of which were called into question by the Michigan Supreme Court’s recent ruling.

4) Bars with more than 70% of sales from alcohol

On July 1, Whitmer closed down indoor service at bars in most of Michigan that had at least 70% of their sales coming from alcohol. Four weeks later, Whitmer lumped northern Michigan into the order, applying it to the entire state.

Whitmer targeted bars because they feature many qualities that facilitate the spread of COVID-19, per Executive Order 2020-143.

Related: Whitmer shuts down indoor bar service in most of Michigan

“They are often crowded, indoors, and poorly ventilated,” the order reads. “They encourage mingling among groups and facilitate close contact over an extended period of time. They are noisy, requiring raised voices and allowing for more projection of viral droplets. And they serve alcohol, which reduces inhibitions and decreases compliance with mask use and physical distancing rules.”

The Michigan Licensed Beverage Association has been lobbying to get rid of this rule, saying it doesn’t do what it intends and only closes the smallest of the small businesses.

MLBA officials met with the governor’s office last month and were “cautiously optimistic” a change to the order could be coming soon.

Like the restaurant order, a willful violation of this is punishable by a misdemeanor. But the problem is the state doesn’t track sales data by how much is from alcohol versus other products, so officials have said enforcement is a challenge.

5) Office spaces for all workers

Office workers in most of Michigan who can work remotely are required to keep working from home, per Executive Order 2020-176. And because Whitmer announced northern Michigan Regions 6 and 8 are moving back a phase on the Mi Safe Start plan, all of Michigan will be under that same order starting Oct. 9.

Currently, northern Michigan office workers are recommended to work from home if work can be done remotely – but not required.

Executive Order 2020-184 also lays out requirements for office spaces, including increased distancing, posting signs about personal hygiene and disinfecting high-touch surfaces.

Some of Michigan’s largest employers have said they don’t plan to bring employees back to the offices until 2021, although some have said they’re just waiting for the green light from the state to be able to reopen.

Related: Michigan businesses don’t have 20/20 vision on bringing workers back to the office

COVID-19 PREVENTION TIPS:

In addition to washing hands regularly and not touching your face, officials recommend practicing social distancing, assuming anyone may be carrying the virus.

Health officials say you should be staying at least 6 feet away from others and working from home, if possible.

Use disinfecting wipes or disinfecting spray cleaners on frequently-touched surfaces in your home (door handles, faucets, countertops) and carry hand sanitizer with you when you go into places like stores.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has also issued executive orders requiring people to wear face coverings over their mouth and nosewhile in public indoor and crowded outdoor spaces. See an explanation of what that means here.

Additional information is available at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.

For more data on COVID-19 in Michigan, visit https://www.mlive.com/coronavirus/data/.

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Gov. has no authority to continue state of emergency, Michigan Supreme Court rules

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