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What Michigan's new coronavirus stay-at-home executive order means

April 24 update: Michigan’s new stay-home order allows landscaping, boating and golf

LANSING — Brian Tillery walked into Home Depot on Friday morning and did a double take.

“What — they’re not selling paint?” he exclaimed.

Signs taped to orange buckets lined with yellow caution tape told the story: 

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s latest stay-home order to battle the coronavirus pandemic allows home improvement stores to stay open, but only to sell “products necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation and basic operations of residences.”

The new regulations required Home Depot to close its paint section, flooring section and outdoor gardening center by Friday morning.

Tillery, a Lansing resident who already lost his job as a floor layer, has been “trying to make ends meet” during the pandemic by picking up side jobs as a handyman, providing what he said are emergency repairs in a time of crisis. 

Paint was supposed to be one of the last steps in his current project: fixing a home after a tree crashed through the roof, damaging the ceiling and causing water damage. 

Now, he’s not sure he can finish the job, so he planned to snap a photo of the closed paint section to show his client as proof. 

“I just don’t understand,” Tillery said. “You can put up drywall, but you just can’t paint it right now because that’s not essential.”

Bridge Magazine has been flooded by similar questions from readers since Whitmer on Thursday issued a new order that extended and expanded her stay-home mandate through April 30.  Here’s what we know so far: 

No more paint sections, garden centers at big stores

Larger stores with more than 50,000 square feet must limit the number of customers inside at one time, allowing no more than four customers per 1,000 square feet of retail floor space. That means a Meijer with 100,000 square feet of floor space can allow a maximum of 400 customers inside at any one time. 

Whitmer’s order also requires large retailers to close carpet or flooring, furniture, garden and plant nursery sections, either by blocking them, placing signs in aisles, posting prominent signs or removing goods from shelves. Bottle return sections at grocery stores must also remain closed. 

Starting Monday, large retailers cannot advertise products that are not groceries, medical supplies or items necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation and basic operation of residences. 

Smaller retailers with less than 50,000 square feet of customer space must limit the number of people in their store — including employees — to 25 percent of occupancy limits established by state or local fire marshals. 

Don’t go “up north”

Whitmer’s initial stay-home order allowed people to travel between two residences they own in Michigan. The new order does not. Instead, it includes a new prohibition on travel to vacation rentals and temporarily bans anyone from advertising short-term vacation rental properties except for use by health care volunteers or professionals battling COVID-19. 

Even before Whitmer’s revised orders, officials in northern Michigan communities urged downstaters to avoid travel to their lakefront or vacation homes.

“Our medical facilities and resources are limited, and an influx of seasonal residents at this time could cause significant issues in our ability to effectively treat our close-knit communities,” the mayors of Mackinac Island and St. Ignace wrote this week in a joint statement.

You can buy a car, just not in person

Whitmer’s new order relaxes rules for auto dealerships to allow online or remote sales.  Dealerships cannot re-open showrooms, but workers are allowed to leave their homes for work that is “necessary to facilitate remote and electronic sales or leases, or to deliver motor vehicles to customers.” Like her previous version, Whitmer’s order also allows repair and maintenance shops connected to auto dealerships to remain open even though their showrooms must close. 

Yeah, churches are still exempt

While many churches have suspended in-person services, Whitmer’s new order maintains an exemption for places of worship. 

“Consistent with prior guidance, a place of religious worship, when used for religious worship, is not subject to penalty,” the order reads. 

Liquor, lotto tickets still flowing

Whitmer’s order maintains the status quo for liquor stores, which are allowed to remain open so long as they also sell “groceries, medical supplies” or other products like toilet paper needed to maintain the “sanitation” of residences.

And the new order says nothing about in-person lottery sales despite calls to end those transactions by state Rep. Mari Manoogian, D-Birmingham, and the Chaldean Chamber of Commerce.

Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said lottery sales are still allowed in Michigan but said people are urged “to take every precaution” and “only purchase lottery tickets if already at a store purchasing food, fuel, or other necessary items.”

Brown said the state is asking retailers to “consider whether their location” for in-store lottery sales “is conducive to appropriate social distancing.” The state will “deactivate the lottery terminal for any retailer upon request,” she added.

Landscaping businesses still closed

Republicans in the Michigan Legislature had asked Whitmer to allow landscaping businesses to re-open, arguing such companies were in a good position to implement social distancing policies among employees that work outside. 

But Whitmer did not oblige, arguing that putting more people back to work would mean more social interactions at places like gas stations where the virus could spread. 

Her new order does not include any new exemptions for landscapers, and her administration provided additional guidance stating that “businesses cannot designate workers to perform cosmetic and non-emergency maintenance and improvements to the outdoor areas of residences and businesses.” 

Golf clubs can’t open

Some lawmakers had also urged Whitmer to re-open golf courses, again arguing that golfers could maintain proper social distancing outside. But the Whitmer administration, in a new guidance, made clear that golf courses are not considered critical infrastructure that can be opened to the public. 

“Golf courses may designate workers whose in-person presence is strictly necessary to conduct minimum basic operations, such as ensuring security,” the administration said. “Minimum basic operations do not include serving the public.”

Gun stores, shooting ranges 'non-essential'

Whitmer’s new stay-home order, like her last, relies on a March 19 guidance from the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to identify critical infrastructure workers exempt from the stay-home order. 

Her order specifically ignores “any subsequent guidance” released by the same agency, including an expanded list of critical workers released March 28 that identifies “workers supporting the operation of firearm or ammunition product manufacturers, retailers, importers, distributors, and shooting ranges.”

Gun stores are considered “non-essential” under the Michigan order, Whitmer spokesman Tiffany Brown told Bridge Magazine.

Likewise, the administration says shooting ranges and hunting clubs cannot be open to the public. “Whether indoor or outdoor in nature, employees of these types of facilities are not considered critical infrastructure,” according to an updated guidance

What can you do outside?

Like the initial order, Whitmer’s new stay-home mandate does allow residents to engage in various outdoor activities, provided they remain 6 feet apart. 

Walking, hiking, running, cycling, kayaking or canoeing are expressly authorized, along with “other similar physical activity” and “any comparable activity for those with limited mobility.”

In a revised guidance, the administration now says that “using a motorboat, a jet ski, or other similar watercraft is not” permitted under the order. And residents must not share a canoe or kayak with anyone who is not a part of their household. 

Campgrounds are closed to the general public as well but could be used to provide temporary shelter to the needy or critical infrastructure workers. 

Can I be arrested for leaving home?

A “willful violation” of Whitmer’s stay-home order is considered a misdemeanor offense, while a separate emergency order from the state health department established a fine of up to $1,000 for violators and a licensing review for businesses that do not adhere to the temporary rules.

Still, you don’t have to fear getting pulled over for simply driving down the street. 

Local police are treating any violations of the stay-home order as a “secondary offense,” meaning they won’t stop drivers simply to ask where they’re going but might question their destination if they run a red light, said Bob Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.

“There are way too many legal reasons for why people might be driving down the road,” he said. 

After days of confusion under Whitmer’s initial stay-home order, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel asked local law police to handle frontline enforcement and provided them with guidance. Her office has issued multiple cease-and-desist letters to non-compliant businesses and promised to prosecute local cases if necessary. 

For the most part, police who see potential violations are simply reminding people to comply with the order, Stevenson said. In the event there is an “ambiguous” situation, police are referring cases to local prosecutors to decide if charges are warranted.

“I think it could be difficult to tell if somebody’s selling vegetable seeds,” he said. “We’re not getting into that level of minutiae. The thing that will grab a police department’s attention, the things they're really concerned about, are the large gatherings where 40 or 50 people will gather for impromptu parties in flagrant violation of social distancing.”

While enforcement varies by local agency, officials in Detroit and Wayne County, where COVID-19 has hit hardest, have recently ramped up enforcement efforts. City police last weekend checked 792 locations for potential violations, issued 74 citations, talked with two non-compliant businesses and broke up nine parties.


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