Whitmer’s ‘overly aggressive’ Michigan mask mandate has businesses worried about enforcement

As coronavirus is on the rise, mask mandates become more strict

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has ordered businesses to disallow customers from entering their establishments unmasked, leaving owners worried about the uncertain position this leaves them in.

The mandate also requires masks be worn in enclosed public spaces and any crowded event as coronavirus cases are on the rise in Michigan. People who fail to comply with the order could face a $500 misdemeanor and a businesses could risk having their license suspended for not enforcing the policies.

“Over the past two weeks, every region in Michigan has seen an uptick in new cases, and daily case counts now exceed 20 cases per million in the Grand Rapids, Detroit, and Lansing regions,” Whitmer said in her order Friday.

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“Research confirms that a big part of the reason is spotty compliance with my requirement, issued in prior orders, that individuals wear face coverings in public spaces,” she added.

Some business owners appreciate the concept behind the mask mandate but are frustrated that the responsibility falls on the business, potentially putting them in precarious situations.

“While retailers and retail employees appreciate Gov. Whitmer’s efforts to increase the number of residents wearing masks when in enclosed, public spaces, we are frustrated that she did not leave the policing to law enforcement officers,” Bill Hallan, president and CEO of Michigan Retailers Association, said in a statement Friday. “This puts retail employees in potentially dangerous situations when they’re forced to confront unmasked customers.”

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The executive order does include some exceptions, which say that children under 5 are not required to wear a mask. People who are eating or drinking, exercising, speaking publically or at religious events and anyone who is prevented by medical reasons are not required to wear a mask under the mandate.

But the stipulations have business owners concerned about their liability.

“Determining the validity of an ambiguous exemption is an impossible task for a retailer,” Hallan said. “And now, even retailers acting in good faith could be subject to severe licensing sanctions based on the actions of noncompliant customers.”

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Hallan called the order “overly aggressive” Friday, and pleaded with customers to comply with the order and understand the new position retailers are in.

“We worry for retail employees’ safety and disagree with the overly aggressive penalties for retailers,” Hallan said.

The order goes into effect on Monday, July 13.