As confusion radiated through the state over a Michigan Supreme Court ruling striking down Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency powers on Friday, October 2, the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has begun the process of issuing new epidemic orders. On Monday, October 5, the agency announced a rule reinforcing face mask requirements, size limits on social gatherings, and rules for bars and restaurants.
Food and beverage rules
The emergency order issued by director Robert Gordon doesn’t close bars, but does close dance floors and other gathering spaces in food establishments. According to the order, businesses must:
- Close indoor common areas in which people can congregate, dance, or otherwise mingle
- Prohibit indoor gatherings anywhere alcoholic beverages are sold for consumption onsite, except for where parties are seated and separated from one another by at least six feet, and do not intermingle
- People at restaurants and bars are permitted to remove their masks while for the purpose of eating and drinking
Capacity and face coverings
The order also states that people must wear masks both indoors and outdoors when gathering in groups of two or more people from different households.
- The rule limits indoor gatherings to 10 people or less with face coverings and outdoor gatherings to 100 people or less with face coverings strongly recommended.
- Non-residential venues such as theaters may host of more than 10 and up to 500 people, but must limit capacity to 20 percent of fixed seating at the venue; if the seating isn’t fixed larger non-residential venues must limit capacity to 20 people per 1,000 feet. Venues in region 6 have slightly looser capacity limits at 25 percent of fixed seating and 25 people per 1,000 feet of non-fixed seating.
- Face coverings are required at non-residential outdoor events of more than 100 and up to 1,000 people are permitted at 30 percent of fixed seating capacity or 30 people per 1,000 feet. Everyone in non-residential outdoor venues is required to wear a mask.
- Event organizers must ensure people from different households maintain six feet of social distance from other groups.
The new rules also address issues surrounding face mask use in government buildings, schools, and during organized sporting events.
MDHHS issued the order after the state Supreme Court ruled on Friday, October 2, that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer did not have the authority to issue states of emergency after April 30 — the date that the GOP-led state legislature stopped approving extensions of her emergency powers. Whitmer had argued that she had the authority to maintain states of emergency and executive orders through the Emergency Management Act of 1976 and the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act from 1945. MDHHS argues that its authority comes from precedents established during the 1918 flu pandemic and isn’t impacted by the Supreme Court ruling.
Gov. Whitmer asked the court on Monday, October 5, to clarify when the ruling goes into effect as the direction of the state’s pandemic response largely hinges on her executive orders. In the meantime, local governments including Ingham County and Oakland County have begun issuing orders reinforcing mask mandates and restaurant and bar capacity rules.