Questions, answers about Michigan’s changing COVID restrictions
June 17: This is it: Michigan to end gathering, mask rules on Tuesday
LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced plans to end restrictions on masks, curfews and businesses Thursday, more than 14 months after the COVID-19 pandemic sidelined Michigan and the nation.
Her announcement — made as she spoke, maskless, from a minor league ballpark in Midland— calls for almost immediate changes:
As of June 1, bars and restaurants can stay open past 11 p.m. and can be half-full — rather than limiting capacity to 100 — while outdoor venues can offer concerts and ball games with no restrictions.
It’s part of an abrupt change from her earlier stance that her administration wouldn’t lift the last of those restrictions until 70 percent of adults 16 and older got the vaccine.
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But Thursday, with vaccinations slowing to the point some experts said Michigan might never hit that threshold, Whitmer scrapped her Vacc to Normal plan just three weeks after she announced it.
Instead, all “broad” restrictions in Michigan will end on July 1.
“We can have the kind of Independence Day we're all looking forward to,” Whitmer said from the Dow Diamond baseball stadium.
Her decision means the end is near for restrictions that lasted months and received criticism for being too strict. They were aimed at limiting the toll of the virus that has killed 18,800 in Michigan, making it the No. 3 killer in the state in 2020, surpassed by cancer and heart disease.
But her announcement, welcomed by many, raises many questions. Bridge Michigan tries to answer them. Specific details won’t come until Monday.
So what exactly did Whitmer announce Thursday?
After July 1, there will be no more state rules on masks, curfews and capacity limits at businesses from sports stadiums to the corner bar — with many of the limits easing on June 1.
The unvaccinated are still required to wear masks indoors in public through June, but Whitmer said there will be no official enforcement, just strong encouragement that they wear them. On July 1, no one has to wear them.
Will there be 40,000 Tigers fans at Comerica Park again?
It's unclear if 41,083 fans would want to go to a Tigers game given their losing record, but the new order will lift all capacity limits for baseball stadiums and other outdoor venues, including music festivals and summer fairs, effective June 1.
That means the Tigers, if ownership so chooses and is able to draw fans, could again allow a capacity crowd at Comerica Park. The team has limited tickets to 8,200 per game since the season began in April.
Limits also end for the state’s minor league teams, including the Great Lakes Loons in Midland, where Whitmer announced the change.
Guns N’ Roses are supposed to come to Comerica Park July 24? Can they play in Michigan?
All you need is a little patience: the changes should allow outdoor venues for concerts to go full capacity on June 1 and all facilities — indoors and out — on July 1.
Still awaiting those new Taylor Swift dates though.
What does this mean for bars and restaurants? Can I finally stay past 11 p.m.?
The state-imposed 11 p.m. curfew is lifted June 1, so “last call” for bars can go back to 2 a.m.
Michigan will also lift a 100-person cap for indoor dining on June 1. Instead, all indoor bars and restaurant dining rooms, regardless of size, will be allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity at that time. The state is also expected to end a limit of six-people per table.
And the state plans to lift all capacity limits July 1.
How many people can I have at my wedding?
Couples planning to get married this summer, including those who had to scrap their plans last year, can breathe easy and stick to worrying about more normal things, like seating charts.
Starting June 1, indoor wedding venues, funeral homes and conference centers will be able to operate at 50 percent capacity, up from the prior rule of just 25 people.
And on July 1, the state will lift those capacity requirements too.
Got a barn wedding booked at the Woldumar Nature Center in Lansing, a popular mid-Michigan venue?
Under the new rules, you’ll be able to seat 75 people in June, and full capacity of 150 people will be allowed in July and beyond.
Or just get married outdoors. The state will lift current capacity restrictions for outdoor gatherings, currently set at 300 people, on June 1.
What about schools?
Nothing changes — at least not this school year, which is almost over.
"Because most students remain unvaccinated, schools and childcare providers should continue to follow the COVID-19 prevention strategies (from the CDC) for at least the remainder of the 2020-2021 academic school year, including masking when indoors,” the state health department said in new guidance released Thursday afternoon.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose recommendations prompted other state policy changes, is still suggesting that schools maintain universal mask policies.
Most districts are following that guidance, said Bob McCann, executive director of the K-12 Alliance of Michigan, a coalition of education officials.
Although younger people have had less trouble recovering from COVID-19, they are still susceptible and most cannot get the vaccine because they’re too young.
Vaccines have only recently been approved for ages 12-15. Those who are 16-18 have been able to get the vaccine for a while.
As of Thursday, roughly 180,000 school-age children have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. But that’s just over 10 percent of the more than 1.4 million K-12 public school students in the state.
Whitmer is going ‘mask free.’ Can I too?
Fully vaccinated people like Whitmer don’t have to wear masks, even indoors, under an existing policy she announced last week. For now, though, the state will maintain current rules requiring unvaccinated people to wear masks in various indoor settings.
But that too will end July 1, Whitmer said, announcing plans to end the last vestiges of Michigan’s mask mandate.
While it won’t be required for anyone at that point, Michigan will still “strongly encourage (unvaccinated) people to continue to mask up, especially when they are indoors with people outside their households,” the governor said. “But that’s going to be encouragement. That will not be through some sort of an order that comes from the state.”
So far, more than 4.6 million people 16 and over have gotten at least the first dose of the vaccine, or 57.2 percent of those eligible. Nearly 54,000 kids 12-15 have gotten the first dose.
But vaccination rates vary widely in the state, with more than 65 percent in Washtenaw, Oakland, Kent, Emmet, Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties to fewer than 45 percent in Detroit and 20 other counties.
Can businesses still require masks after July 1?
Private establishments can continue to set their own policies that they deem appropriate to protect the health and safety of customers or staff.
Under current rules, set to last until July 1, businesses are expected to require unvaccinated people wear masks indoors.
They are supposed to make a “good faith” effort, which could include signs, but lax enforcement has led to spotty compliance in some parts of the state.
Whitmer urged Michiganders to show “grace” to store workers who may be forced to ask customers to comply with rules they didn’t create.
Will Michigan just go ahead and offer me $1 million to get vaccinated?
No, Michigan will not offer a $1 million lottery for people who get a COVID-19 vaccine like Ohio.
And it’s not even offering the kind of daily $40,000 lottery prize that Maryland announced Thursday.
It’s not clear what statue she was citing, but Whitmer said Thursday that “Michigan law precludes us” from offering lottery prizes as a vaccine incentive.
“We are investigating if there are additional ways that we can encourage people to get vaccinated,” the governor told reporters, “But the most powerful reason is because it’ll keep you safe, it’ll keep your loved one safe and it’ll help us all have confidence as we’re out in the public right now.”
What’s happening with workplace safety rules?
Michigan has a separate set of COVID-19 workplace safety rules that technically still require masks for all indoor workers, but the state said this week it is developing new rules and will not punish businesses that comply with Whitmer’s new pandemic order allowing the unvaccinated to go mask free.
New but temporary rules are expected as early as Monday, and business groups are also urging the state to scrap plans to codify some pandemic rules in a permanent policy.
The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration “will soon post updated workplace rules reflecting the CDC’s recent guidance on face masks for fully vaccinated people,” COVID-19 Workplace Safety Director Sean Egan said Wednesday, in a statement.
“Until then, MIOSHA will consider compliance with the MDHHS order as good faith to comply when responding to employee complaints or conducting investigations related to COVID-19.”
Late Thursday, Michigan Republicans announced they had secured a deal with Whitmer to end permanent MIOSHA rules related to the pandemic.
My parents are in a nursing home. Does this change the rules there too?
The rules on nursing homes and other senior “congregate living” facilities are not covered by the same orders but the state will provide additional guidance later, said Lynn Sutfin, a state health spokesperson.
In a Thursday afternoon memo, the state health department said nursing homes and other residential care facilities should continue to require face masks for all individuals, regardless of vaccination status.
Fully vaccinated nursing home residents should wear masks during group activities when unvaccinated people are present, the state said.
And fully vaccinated health care workers should wear masks at work, except while dining, socializing or conducting in-person meetings with other fully vaccinated people.
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