LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — The state of Michigan is following suit with federal health officials, lifting requirements for fully vaccinated people to wear masks in most situations.
The new rules from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services go into effect at 9 a.m. Saturday.
The announcement from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office came Friday morning, the day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated mask guidance. If you’re fully vaccinated, you won’t have to wear a mask in most situations — though the CDC still wants you to wear one in a hospital, on public transport or aboard an airplane.
You’ll also still have to follow any rules set by your local government, your workplace (the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration has yet to issue updated guidance) or instituted by a business.
Meijer, for example, said in a Friday statement that it will keep requiring masks at all its stores, citing its desire to keep workers and shoppers alike safe.
“While we are aware of new CDC guidance, many state or local orders in the Meijer footprint remain in effect regarding masks. In order to help ensure the continued health and safety of all its team members and customers, Meijer continues to require face coverings by anyone entering a Meijer store or Meijer Express station at all locations, except where medical conditions prevent them from wearing one.“Meijer
The Michigan Supreme Court also says masks must still be worn in court.
People who are not fully vaccinated — that is, are not two weeks past their final dose — must still wear their masks indoors.
“The safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine and all the hard work that Michiganders have done allows us to take a big step in returning to normal,” MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel said in a statement. “This updated order keeps Michigan in alignment with CDC guidance that is based on the knowledge of health experts. I urge our residents to continue to be respectful of each other as we move forward.”
Clay Wilms, a customer at the Meijer on West Main Street west of Kalamazoo, said that even though he is fully vaccinated, he will keep wearing his mask for now even if a business decides to not require it.
“I think everybody going to have to make a decision and some people are going to go one way and some people are going to go the other,” Wilms said.
Small retailers like The Spirit of Kalamazoo are often aligning their policies with state requirements, according to boutique co-owner Kathleen Widner.
“We will have a sign on the door that says if you’re fully vaccinated, you do not have to wear a mask but that staff at The Spirit of Kalamazoo will continue to wear their masks and we are fully vaccinated,” Widner said.
The store plans to revisit the employee requirement after a week and follow rules set by MIOSHA once they are released.
Stacy Skartsiaris, the owner of Theo and Stacy’s restaurant in downtown Kalamazoo, said the entire staff is vaccinated but it may keep the mask requirement for employees a bit longer. Server Kristen Bowers said she does not mind having to wear a mask.
“The customers might still be uneasy at first. I think that over time they might get more comfortable with it but at first it’s something that you probably want to ease into,” Bowers said.
Marsha Mansaray, the deputy administrative health officer for Ottawa County, said county health departments could choose to implement their own masking rules but that hers has no plans to do so.
“I think most businesses that serve the public will probably minimize their requirements for masking unless they serve a public that’s compromised, their health is at risk,” Mansaray said.
No one, vaccinated or not vaccinated, has to wear a mask outdoors. That means, the Detroit Tigers tweeted, that you don’t have to wear a mask at Comerica Park as of Saturday.
After July 1, the indoor mask mandate will run out for everyone regardless of vaccination status.
—News 8 reporter Kyle Mitchell contributed.
WHITMER CONTINUES TO URGE VACCINATIONS
Michigan’s first mask order was issued by the governor 385 days ago, on April 24, 2020.
“Throughout this entire pandemic, our north star has been data and science from the CDC and our public health professionals, and we are going to continue to listen and trust the experts,” Whitmer said in a video posted to social media. “And after months of getting out the damn vaccines, the data is clear: The COVID-19 vaccines are a miracle of modern science and they work to keep people safe from this deadly virus.”
Whitmer, who is now more than two weeks out from her second dose, said she was “excited to get back to the things that we all know and love.”
But she also warned that “this doesn’t mean that the COVID-19 pandemic is over,” and she called on people who haven’t been vaccinated to do so.
As the guidance was coming out of Lansing, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist was in Grand Rapids visiting a local vaccine clinic. He said Whitmer’s administration was still looking at how the new mask guidance would affect her “MI Vacc to Normal Challenge” that ties restrictions — like the loosening of capacity restrictions that are still in effect — to vaccination benchmarks.
“We’re taking a look at that; obviously, this is new context,” he said. “But I think that we should find what happened yesterday as really an unambiguously positive thing. It perhaps might be the biggest incentive for people to make the choice to get vaccinated because we’ve been living in this reality where we’ve had to wear mask and social distance for a year. We have this tool that works better that we could ever imagined. These vaccines are so safe, so effective. They stop people from (getting the virus) or make it very difficult to transmit, get sick, go to the hospital or pass away. So now you can get vaccinated, get fully inoculated and then you can take your mask off. You can get back to doing the things that you miss and the way that you miss them. That’s encouraging.”
There is no indication what, if any, changes to the metric targets may be forthcoming.
It took Whitmer’s administration nearly 20 hours to respond after the CDC’s update, but Gilchrist said he wasn’t surprised by federal health officials’ move.
“I think it’s encouraging and I don’t think that anyone should look at it as out of nowhere because it’s responsive to the overwhelming and evolving evidence from scientific research,” Gilchrist said. “The CDC has been transparent about that from day one, putting forth the smartest research that they have. So this has been a building for some time now so we weren’t surprised. We were encouraged by it.”
Michigan is aiming to vaccinate 70% of the population over the age of 16. Demand has plummeted recently — the percentage crept up only a tenth of a percent Friday to 55.7%. Most people eager to get the shots have already been able to do so. Health officials must now focus on reaching those who are willing to get the shots but want it to be convenient or those who are hesitant for any number of reasons.
“It’s critical that eligible Michigan residents who have not yet been vaccinated schedule their appointments as soon as they can,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said in a statement accompanying the governor’s release about masks. “Getting shots in arms is the best way to end the pandemic. If you have not yet been vaccinated, it is important to continue to mask up to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.”
—News 8 political reporter Rick Albin contributed.
ABOUT 1,800 MORE CONFIRMED CASES
Michigan on Friday reported 1,766 more confirmed cases of the virus and 34 additional related deaths.
That brings the total number of confirmed cases to 873,335 since the virus was first detected in the state 14 months ago and the total number of related deaths to 18,500.
On Thursday, labs tested 36,272 samples for the virus and 2,296 were positive, which works out to 6.33%. The number of positive tests is not the same as the number of new cases because people may be tested more than once. Additionally, testing numbers are from a single calendar date, while the number of new cases lists the increase since the last time the state compiled the data; these two time frames do not match up precisely.
Kent County reported four more deaths, bringing its total to 744. It confirmed 164 more cases for a total of 66,619.
Berrien, Muskegon and Ottawa counties each reported one more death, bringing their respective totals to 258, 335 and 365. Berrien County has had 13,609 confirmed cases, Muskegon County 14,983 cases and Ottawa County 29,720 cases.
Wayne County, hit hardest by the virus, reported six more deaths for a total of 4,565 and confirmed 305 more cases for a total of 149,256. Neighboring Oakland County has had 99,982 confirmed cases (196 more than the previous day) and 2,164 deaths (one more). Macomb County has had 90,176 cases (120 more) and 2,224 deaths (seven more).
Even though Michigan still has the highest case rate and hospital bed utilization of any state in the nation, its key virus metrics are steadily improving. The seven-day average of the test positivity rate is closing in on 9%. The average case rate has been cut in half since the peak of the most recent surge. The count of adults hospitalized with the virus has dropped below 2,000 for the first time since March 26 and the rate of deaths is no longer climbing.