News Story

Was Not Wearing A Face Mask A Crime In Michigan? Hard To Say

What were the requirements for wearing a face mask in Michigan, and the sanctions for not wearing one?

It’s very confusing, with at least five executive orders addressing the legal status of face mask use. Four of these orders address the public and one addresses what businesses must do to comply.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer added another executive order on Friday with even stricter requirements. Any business would be required to refuse service to a customer without a face mask under the latest mandate. The specifics of the newest executive order have not been released yet. And with Whitmer's orders, the devil is in the details.

Executive Order 110 was issued June 1. It states: “Any individual who leaves his or her home or place of residence must: Wear a face covering over his or her nose and mouth—such as a homemade mask, scarf, bandana, or handkerchief—when in any enclosed public space, unless the individual is unable medically to tolerate a face covering.” But this executive order also states that a person cannot be penalized for not wearing a mask.

Executive Order 115 was issued June 5. Like Executive Order 110, it says that says “any individual who leaves his or her home or place of residence” must wear a face mask in an enclosed public space. But again, the order also says this requirement may not be enforced.

But Executive Order 126, issued June 17, added new language. It said that not wearing a face mask in “food-selling establishments” and pharmacies could be subject to criminal misdemeanor penalties, civil fines or both.

It reads: “Any individual who enters a food-selling establishment or pharmacy who is able to medically tolerate a face covering must wear a covering over his or her nose and mouth, such as a homemade mask, scarf, bandana, or handkerchief.”

Unlike the June 1 and June 5 executive orders, the June 17 executive order states that willful violations are a misdemeanor crime.

According to the executive order, “food-selling establishments” means grocery stores, convenience stores, restaurants that sell groceries or food available for takeout, and any other business that sells food.

Executive Order 114, issued June 5, imposed face mask rules and requirements on businesses. Certain establishments are required to make both employees and customers wear masks, such as barbershops and hair salons. But for other types of businesses, including construction firms and manufacturers, there are no face mask requirements for employees or customers. Masks are also not required at sports arenas, cinemas, theaters and other “places of public amusement.” Instead, managers at those places are under order to “encourage or require patrons to wear face coverings.”

The order does impose one mandate, and it’s on employees who work in close proximity to one another. It says that “all businesses must ... require face coverings to be worn when employees cannot consistently maintain six feet of separation from other individuals in the workplace.”

None of these four executive orders have been rescinded as of July 10, according to Whitmer’s government website, meaning they are all still in effect.

Whitmer’s public comments have not clarified what is legal or illegal.

When asked at a July 9 press conference how mask mandates will be enforced, Whitmer said "Right now, [wearing a mask] is required. And for some reason, people don’t seem to know that.”

The backdrop for the increasing focus on face mask use is a spike in daily new cases in July. Even as new cases have surged, however, the number of daily coronavirus deaths has plummeted. Experience indicates the disease is rarely fatal for younger people, while those over the age of 60 are far more at risk. Many of the deaths earlier in the pandemic occurred among older people in nursing homes.

"The Governor has issued over 135 Executive Orders since March 10, 2020, when she first declared an emergency," said Patrick Wright, Mackinac Center for Public Policy's vice president of legal affairs. "These executive orders attempt to control the lives of Michigan’s 10 million citizens and often subject violators to misdemeanors. Yet, the website where these orders are is clunky and not easily searched, meaning that it is almost impossible for the average citizen to stay on top of what is and is not allowed."