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Whitmer orders Michigan stores to refuse entry to those not wearing masks

July 17 update: Whitmer tightens Michigan’s mask order but makes it optional when voting

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered Michigan businesses to refuse entry to customers not wearing face masks, in an executive order issued Friday.

The order, which goes into effect immediately for indivuals and Monday for businesses, also requires Michigan residents to wear face masks outdoors if they cannot maintain six feet of distance from others.

Face masks were already required in indoor public spaces such as retail stores, restaurants and bars by a previous executive order, but compliance by the public was inconsistent and enforcement virtually nonexistent. But with the daily count of new coronavirus cases tripling in the past month, Whitmer’s new order puts the onus of enforcement on businesses.

“I feel for businesses that are doing all the right things…these businesses are also asking for tougher rules so that they can point to it and say this is the law,” Whitmer said at a news conference Thursday, at which she hinted more face mask requirements were coming. “Right now it’s required and for some reason people don’t seem to know that.”

Under the order released Friday, which you can read here, businesses that are open to the public must refuse entry and service to individuals who aren’t wearing face coverings. Businesses must post signs at all entrances instructing customers of their legal obligation to wear a face covering while inside.

Those exempted from the face mask requirement: Children under age 5, those who cannot medically tolerate a face covering, and those who are dining in restaurants or bars but only when they are eating or drinking.  

The order gives the state the authority to temporarily shut down businesses that do not enforce the mask requirement. Individuals and businesses that deliberately ignore the face mask order are subject to a misdemeanor and face up to a $500 fine.

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce understands the intent of the order and will  help members comply, said President Rich Studley. But he expects many questions about interactions between employees and customers at the entrance to businesses.

Studley said businesses around the state have been dealing with confrontations over customers wearing masks. Those customers may remain a problem — and that puts business owners in a tough position.

“What happens when a customer refuses to leave?” Studley asks. “Is it the expectation of the governor or attorney general that they should force a customer to leave? As a practical matter, how should they accomplish that?”

The Michigan Retailers Association said it wasn’t surprised by the order, which spokesperson Meegan Holland said Gov. Whitmer hinted at on Thursday.  But it’s disappointing, she said. 

“If someone doesn’t wear a mask in a retail space, it’s the retailer who’ll pay the price,” Holland said. “This is no time to be penalizing businesses when they’re in the middle of a pandemic.”

Holland said her members are worried about violence, particularly in stories like groceries with high customer volume. Confrontations already are a problem, Holland said, and stores have been forced to put staff into enforcement roles. 

“This is something they’re untrained to do or paid to do.

“We have been advocating for months now that if you’re going to have an order (mandating masks), it should be backed up by local police agencies,” Holland said.

Whitmer appealed to retail customers to act in the public good. 

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

“Masks can reduce the chance of spreading COVID-19 by about 70 percent. By wearing masks, we can save lives and protect our family, friends, and neighbors from the spread of COVID-19,” Whitmer said. “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. For the sake of your loved ones, let’s all mask up, Michigan.” 

On Thursday, Whitmer had warned that K-12 school reopenings this fall were threatened by an increase in COVID-19 cases. Whitmer said that if Michigan families want their children back in classrooms in September, they need to wear face masks now.

“Michigan's fight against COVID-19 is nowhere near over, which is why it’s so important that we all do our part and wear masks when we’re out in public,” said Chief Medical Executive and DHHS Chief Deputy for Health Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said in a news release announcing the executive order. “Wearing a mask or face covering can significantly decrease the chance of spreading COVID-19 and save lives.

Democrat Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, issued a statement supporting the executive order.  

“So many Michigan businesses and their patrons have already been doing the right thing by masking up, but those that haven’t put us all at risk,” Ananich said. 

“Masks are not a political statement, they are a safety statement that you care about protecting yourself and others, and you take the pandemic that has killed over 6,000 of your Michigan neighbors seriously.’”

The Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce on Thursday launched a #MaskUpMichigan campaign to encourage mask-wearing in Michigan businesses. The social media campaign asks businesses to share support for face-coverings. 

“If you want to keep businesses open, wear a mask,” President and CEO Sandy Baruah said Friday. “We think it comes down to that very simple equation.”

COVID-19 numbers across the U.S. raise concerns about the spread of the disease, Baruah said. The impact on businesses will continue to be felt until that ends, he said, and masks offer an easy way to limit the spread. 

“Health data drives the comfort level of consumers to be in the marketplace,” he said. “We need to make this real for people because not enough people are taking this seriously enough.”

“We want to move past this COVID crisis as quickly as we can.”

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