Whitmer tweaks mask order; businesses can’t assume exception

Coronavirus

LANSING, Mich. (AP/WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday tweaked Michigan’s tougher order to wear masks in public, clarifying that is not required while voting and telling businesses they cannot assume people who enter without a face covering are covered by exceptions.

The changes came a week after the Democratic governor updated the mask rule to add a maximum $500 fine and require businesses to refuse entry to those without a face covering.

Now, businesses explicitly can “accept a customer’s verbal representation that they are not wearing a face covering because they fall within a specified exception,” according to the order. That could include being unable to medically tolerate a mask, for instance.

The order also specifically exempts polling places, though wearing a mask there is “strongly encouraged.” A separate part of the order says they do not abridge constitutional protections, but Whitmer said the change provides clarity.

The governor also tightened an exemption for law enforcement officers, firefighters and parademics — saying they must wear a mask unless it would “seriously interfere” with their job.

GROUP OFFERING HELP TO RETAILERS

Meegan Holland, a spokesperson with the Michigan Retail Association, said the latest order puts more responsibility — and often stress — on retailers tasked with enforcement.  

“Sales associates are neither trained nor are they paid to confront belligerent and potentially dangerous customers, so it’s been really tough on retailers,” Holland said.  

Holland said the association has been offering de-escalation webinars to help stores figure out words and phrasing they might use to confront unmasked customers calmly.  

While some retailers would like to relinquish their responsibility as enforcers, others are relieved to have stricter rules to rely on.  

“Some retailers will like the extra teeth in this law and say, ‘Now I can tell customers that I have to remind them to wear a face mask,’” Holland said.  

OFFICIALS: DON’T FORGET ABOUT ADA

In response to the latest order, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights put out a reminder to businesses Friday, cautioning them to enforce the new mandate while still complying with state and federal laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  

Interim Director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights Mary Engelman said businesses must offer a reasonable accommodation to any individual who states they are unable to medically tolerate wearing a mask.  

“Whether it’s asthma and you feel like you can’t breathe or there’s anxiety — that scope of disability is quite large so again just to be reasonable and try to work with the client (or) customer,” Engelman said.  

“If a business offers a reasonable accommodation and the individual rejects it, or if an accommodation is not possible, the business may deny entry to that individual,” the Civil Rights Department stated in a press release Friday.  

While the new executive order states businesses must get a verbal indication that the customer is not wearing a mask due to medical reasons, Engelman said the individual doesn’t have to provide any further explanation or proof. 

“When (business representatives) start pursuing and are persistent and maybe they don’t believe them,” Engelman said. “It’s just safer territory to not push the client so much because then they may have a case against that establishment.” 

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