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Michigan Is Easing COVID-19 Mask Regulations: What it Means for Outdoor Eating

The new health department measure comes before festival and fair season

A person wears a pretzel necklace and a plastic cup of light beer at Michigan Brewers Guild festival in 2014.
Large outdoor events, including food festivals and fairs, will be able to exceed the current 1,000-person limit as long as they create and post a safety plan under new regulations.
Michelle and Chris Gerard

Masks are no longer mandatory at small gatherings outdoors in Michigan, according to a new health department regulation that will take effect Thursday, May 6.

The order, which comes before large holidays and the typical season for fairs and food festivals in metro Detroit, follows a similar easing of outdoor mask guidance by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The commitment by Michiganders to receive the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is allowing us to move toward a return to normal,” Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director Elizabeth Hertel said in a news release on Tuesday night. “The vaccines work. That means once Michiganders are fully vaccinated, they do not have to abide by as many health guidelines because of the protection the vaccine provides from the spread of the virus.”

Under the new order, masks will not be required outdoors unless at gatherings with 100 or more people. Large outdoor events, including food festivals and fairs, also will be able to exceed the current 1,000-person limit as long as they create and post a safety plan.

COVID case rates, hospitalizations and deaths have been declining in recent weeks, but Michigan is still worst in the nation in all three metrics. The state reported 2,527 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and 126 deaths on Tuesday. Recently, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called for residents to stop eating indoors at restaurants, and asked restaurateurs to pause service for two weeks in an effort to thwart a COVID-19 surge.

But Hertel and Whitmer have resisted handing down more stringent regulations, despite recommendations from national health leaders.

Instead, Whitmer outlined a plan on Thursday, April 29, that would make COVID-19 restrictions contingent on specific vaccination levels.

The tiered plan, for example, would lift the curfew for the state’s restaurants and bars once 60 percent of Michiganders 18 and older are vaccinated. Indoor dining capacity limits would be lifted once 65 percent of Michiganders over 18 are vaccinated. Under current regulations, restaurants are restricted to 50 percent capacity or 100 diners.

State health officials have previously said the goal is to have 70 percent of Michiganders vaccinated, a goal mirroring President Biden’s plan for the nation. About half of state residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine but rates in Detroit have been sluggish, with just 31.3 percent of residents 16 and older getting a shot, as of Wednesday, May 3.