Public health officials say masks will still be required in public, despite the ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court.
LANSING, MI—Michiganders will need to continue wearing masks in public, top health officials ordered.
At a time when nearby Wisconsin sets its records for daily coronavirus deaths, Michigan is less than a month away from losing the protections that have kept locals comparatively healthy during the pandemic. So the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is acting.
Michigan’s state Supreme Court issued a 4-3 decision Friday to strip Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of the authority to enact the emergency protections that have been largely effective in stemming the tide of the novel coronavirus pandemic and afforded hospitals the critical breathing room needed to treat the rising number of coronavirus patients. Her authority expires in as little as three weeks.
In response, MDHHS Director Robert Gordon issued an emergency order Monday restoring the mask requirements and limits to gatherings to 20 people for every 1,000 square feet.
“Michigan was hit hard by COVID-19 early in the pandemic,” Gordon said in a statement. “Strict preventive measures and the cooperation of Michiganders drove those numbers down dramatically, greatly reducing the loss of life. As we head into flu season, this order is necessary to protect vulnerable individuals, ensure the health care system can provide care for all health issues, keep schools open, and maintain economic recovery.”
Where the state’s Supreme Court struck down Whitmer’s emergency authority, the ruling did leave the door open for other approaches to accomplish the same end. Rather than hinging this emergency order on the powers of the governor, Gordon focused on legal authority given to MDHHS following the disastrous 1918 influenza pandemic.
That law allows the director of MDHHS to put in place procedures and limitations during an epidemic or pandemic as part of their responsibility to protect the public health of Michigan.
“In May, in Wisconsin, another divided supreme court invalidated emergency orders much as ours did. Bars threw open their doors, and cases began a rapid rise. Now Wisconsin has some of the highest COVID rates in the country,” Gordon wrote explaining his order. “What happened in Wisconsin can happen in Michigan. In fact, we are seeing signs of it already in the Upper Peninsula, where counties near the Wisconsin border have experienced sharp increases in COVID.”
Gordon will be taking feedback on the order and reevaluating its specific details between now and Oct. 30.
MDHHS is hardly alone in trying to fill the void created by Michigan’s Supreme Court. Both Ingham County where the Court is located and Oakland County which is the second largest in Michigan have instituted county-level protections and requirements for masks that mirrored what Whitmer did with the emergency authority now revoked by the Court.
Both county orders were also issued by health officials, pivoting the response to the pandemic away from politics and into the hands of public health efforts, an approach to the coronavirus that Michigan has been advocating from the outset.
“We won’t need these orders forever,” wrote Gordon. “The day can’t come soon enough when a vaccine and therapeutic drugs make normal life safer again. For now, public action is critical to saving Michiganders’ lives.”