Whitmer tightens Michigan’s mask order but makes it optional when voting

Michigan businesses now face fines if they don’t mandate customers wear masks under a recent order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. (Courtesy photo)

LANSING — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer tightened her COVID-19 mask mandate on Friday in an attempt to coax compliance by reluctant businesses. 

The first-term Democrat also clarified that wearing a mask will not be required — but is encouraged — inside polling places during August and November elections.

Whitmer's new executive order builds on the version she issued July 10, which requires residents to wear masks in crowded places and directs businesses to deny service to those who don't.

Failure to comply is a misdemeanor crime punishable by a fine of up to $500, but some sheriffs have said they will not ticket offenders.

And some owners have refused to stop customers from entering their stores without face coverings, arguing they do not have the legal authority to ask residents about medical conditions that could exempt them from the mask mandate. 

"Therefore, if we see you without a mask, we will assume you have a medical condition and will welcome you inside to support our business," said a sign conservative activists were asking businesses to hang on their doors this week.

Legal experts disagreed with that interpretation. Whitmer's new order makes clear that businesses cannot "assume that someone who enters" without a face mask is exempt from the order. Businesses may, however, accept a customer's verbal statement that they are exempt because of a medical condition.

“Wearing a mask is the right thing to do to protect our families, our businesses, and our economy,” Whitmer said in a statement. 

“If everyone in Michigan masks up, we can save thousands of lives and put ourselves in a better position to send our kids back to school in the fall. For the safety of our loved ones and our dedicated first responders on the front lines: mask up, Michigan.”

The new order clarifies a legal question, but it is “concerning, because it puts retailers into even a stronger enforcement role, which we've said we're concerned about all along," said Meegan Holland of the Michigan Retailers Association.

However, some store owners "may appreciate this in the sense they can say to customers, 'Hey look, we're just complying with the order and we have to ask you or remind you to wear a mask,'" Holland added. 

"I think you'll see more and more stores just ready to hand out masks to people who come in without one, making it a friendly offer rather than a confrontational thing."

Businesses can enforce the mask policy without violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights said Friday. 

Stores can do so by offering carryout service or other shopping alternatives to customers who cannot wear a mask because of a disability, the department said, or by discussing other "reasonable accommodations" that could be made, such as allowing a customer to wear a face shield instead.

“We must ensure that people with disabilities are able to access the same goods and services that we all enjoy," Mary Engelman, interim director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, said in a statement.

Dozens of states, led by Democratic and Republican governors, have implemented mask mandates as COVID-19 case counts rise across the country. Michigan cases have ticked up but remain well below the state's late-April peak. 

Conservative groups and some GOP lawmakers have bashed Whitmer's order, arguing it attempts to turn businesses into “mask police” and puts store employees in potentially dangerous circumstances.

Tensions over the order erupted in violence in the Lansing area on Tuesday, when a dispute over masks led to a stabbing and eventual police shooting.

State Rep. John Reilly, R-Oakland Township, announced Friday that he is working on legislation that would prohibit local governments from issuing their own mask mandates. 

Whitmer's order is "a massive infringement on individual liberty," he said in a statement. 

But Michigan's statewide order is consistent with recommendations prepared for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, according to a leaked report published Thursday by the Center for Public Integrity. 

Michigan should "continue the state masking requirement" and "intensify public messaging of its importance given national trends," said the report, which urged 18 states  — but not Michigan — to adopt more stringent measures to slow the virus.

Whitmer also clarified that her new order overrides mask mandates in prior executive mandates limiting the size of public gatherings and regulating enclosed indoor spaces. 

And she said that public safety officers, including police and fire, do not have to wear masks if they interfere with their official duties.

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Bob Dunn
Sat, 07/18/2020 - 9:25am

Reilly has to think about the safety of the people instead of grandstanding. According to his logic we should not require seatbelts, stop lights, one way streets, vaccinations, and the list goes on. These rules are all made for the safety of the people and most people understand this. Thanks to Governor Whitmer's leadership we are making progress.

Sat, 07/18/2020 - 10:08am

As someone who was going to work in the township hall as a poll worker, I have decided not to because the mask wearing will be optional. Hopefully enough people who do not want to wear masks will volunteer. I really doubt that however.... I don't think non-mask wearer's have any civic responsibility in their heads.

Sat, 07/18/2020 - 10:44am

We make allowances for handicapped and sick people. We can do the same for no mask...... Make a separate line for no masks with special accomodations.

Geoffrey Owen
Mon, 07/20/2020 - 3:19pm

That's nonsense. To get to the pols they have to follow a miriad of safety precautions. A mask is the least of these. Old and sick people have to do more safe things each day to stay alive. Everyone can wear a mask. No Mask, No Vote. Disrupt a polling place $1,000 fine and jail.

Matt J.
Sat, 07/18/2020 - 11:48am

"There are no known medical conditions aside from a severe skin condition (like a very severe burn that needs medical attention) on your face that would prevent a person from wearing [a surgical or cloth covering] type of mask,” David Kaufman, MD, pulmonologist and director of the medical ICU at Tisch Hospital, tells Health. “If you can wear a scarf to keep your face warm in the winter, you can wear a mask to prevent the spread of disease....Jim Keany, MD, emergency physician, patient safety physician champion, and former chief of staff at Mission Hospital in Orange County, California agrees that there are no medical conditions that would preclude someone from wearing a simple surgical or cloth face mask, because both masks have 'no effect on respiratory mechanics.'" I"ll let these quotes speak for themselves.

Sat, 07/18/2020 - 12:48pm

This is a mistake. Voters should be required to wear masks at the polling places. A majority of the poll workers are elderly or have health issues. March election was horrible. Everyone crowding the check-in areas and people coughing, sneezing, sweating on each other. I'm not surprised that many workers are not coming back for this election. If we have to wear masks in public places why not the polling places?

Jerry A
Mon, 07/20/2020 - 2:17pm

Everyone should vote absentee.

Wed, 07/22/2020 - 11:48am

Sure! Especially the millions of dead people who were sent applications for absentee ballots! Then we can turn the entire country blue!

Sat, 07/18/2020 - 2:10pm

Sounds reasonable.

Sun, 07/19/2020 - 1:16am

I am disabled and because of HIPA laws I dont have to explain my medical condition or why I dont wear a mask to anyone...Its called privacy!

Snicker Doodles
Mon, 07/20/2020 - 2:24pm

The claim: It violates HIPAA and the Fourth, or Fifth, Amendment to ask people why they are not wearing a face mask
Sorry, but those lame excuses have been DEBUNKED:
You can thank the governor for allowing you to vote in person, but don't try that crap to avoid wearing a mask in a store.

Geoffrey Owen
Mon, 07/20/2020 - 3:23pm

Sure thing Jeffrey. A clerk in Home Depot told me she had to pull it off her nose because it was hard to hear. It isn't privacy if you are in public, that should be clear. And there are no HIPA laws.

Leon Hulett
Sun, 07/19/2020 - 9:30am

I don't think masking up is the right thing to do.

OSHA says, "Respiratory Protection Standard, 29 CFR 1910.134.

Oxygen deficient atmosphere means an atmosphere with an oxygen content below 19.5% by volume."

OSHA data shows that wearing an N95 or PM250 mask will lower the oxygen level one is breathing to 17%. That is oxygen deficient. 20% of a test group had CO2 levels increase from 30 to 50 or more. That is too much CO2.

I think the definition of what is a COVID19 case has changed. Once upon a time, CDC said, it had to confirm with their own tests, and this was called a "CDC Confirmed Case." Now, the CDC says all that is needed is for a person to call into a doctor and say any one of three symptoms and they and all their family members will be classified as "COVID19 cases."

Since April 3 the number of cases has seen a downward trend. Only the change in definition in June increases the number of "cases" reported if compared to earlier "CDC Confirmed Cases."

Since April 23 the number deaths has seen a downward trend.

Now, the CDC says pneumonia and flu symptoms may be considered a COVID19 case.

All of this false or distorted information being accepted by the Governor is not healthy.

There has been no effort to balance any of that against the damage to the economy of a shut down, of 50% operation, of assigning employees new policing obligations, all while wearing oxygen deficient masks and CO2 concentrating masks.

I don't buy it.

Let's do things that are actually healthy.

Leon Hulett

Mon, 07/20/2020 - 2:29pm

Let's do things that are actually healthy.... Like voting for Democrats.

Sun, 08/02/2020 - 12:22pm

As long as we are voting on the war criminals we are going to ship to gitmo.

Sun, 07/19/2020 - 10:59am

To those who oppose wearing, have you ever worked the front lines people cough on you sneeze on you blow their nose in front of you into their hanky, tissue then you handle payment money credit card, I would excuse myself before handling next transaction to go wash my hands and face, they leave oblivious, health and safety first. Most of society has no idea what it is like. I wouldn't do that work in today's society without combat pay

Geoffrey Owen
Sun, 07/19/2020 - 10:56pm

State Rep. John Reilly, R-Oakland Township, since you live not far from me I will need to look up your photo so I can stay safe if you are in my vicinity. After all, I would hate for your right to be "whatever" crosses paths with my right to "Life".

Michael Bloom
Mon, 07/20/2020 - 2:32pm

Oakland is now reliable BLUE. So get used to it.

Mon, 07/20/2020 - 6:57am

Can someone explain that if wearing a mask is critical to prevent the spread of COVID, then why is Governor Whitmer excusing the mask requirement for voting? Won’t people be together in a public space ? Also, as other readers have noted, certain protests are exempt from mask wearing and social distancing, while others are not. It is exceedingly clear that our governor’s motivation and behavior have been political throughout this entire crisis. If her behavior had been truly for the benefit of all Michiganders, people may have responded differently to her mandates.

middle of the mit
Mon, 07/20/2020 - 10:54am

I can't explain it. The best I can come up with is that she is hoping that most people vote by mail and that she is hoping by not mandating masks that the cordial non-mask wearers that "never turn violent" will actually be cordial.

Who has said that protestors were exempt from wearing masks? The only protests that I have seen where the majority of protesters had no masks, they were carrying AR-15's and I don't remember anyone getting a ticket. Do you?

Maybe if some people actually cared about their fellow individuals half as much as they care about their individual right to be viral infector, they would listen to the same people they do about their heart health.

Mon, 07/20/2020 - 2:41pm

No protests are exempt from mask wearing and social distancing.

Mon, 07/20/2020 - 9:12am

Poll workers need to be protected. If no mask are allowed then Whitmer needs to make polls safe for the workers. Arrange to keep unmasked voters and poll workers separated.

Mon, 07/20/2020 - 2:42pm


Elizabeth Stafford
Tue, 07/21/2020 - 9:07am

Yeah, she is hoping for more mail in ballots because people will be afraid to go to the polls. Slick.