Macomb County will not issue mask mandate

MDHHS issues emergency order following court ruling

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published October 6, 2020

 Shutterstock photo

Shutterstock photo

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MACOMB COUNTY — Macomb County is not enforcing a mask mandate.

County Executive Mark Hackel said Oct. 6 that the county “will continue to operate as it did before the Court made its decision,” referencing the Michigan Supreme Court’s Oct. 2 ruling that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer does not have the legal authority to extend or declare states of emergency in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That involves urging compliance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which includes wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing and staying home if ill.

On Oct. 4, the office of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued a statement saying that although her office would no longer enforce Whitmer’s executive order through criminal prosecution, the hope is that “proven efforts” like mask wearing and social distance guidelines will still be adhered.

“If it weren’t for the Governor’s actions, countless more of our friends, family and neighbors would have been lost to COVID-19,” the statement read. “We can respect both the court’s decision and the advice of medical experts by continuing with these important measures voluntarily.”

On Oct. 5, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued its own emergency order, restricting gathering sizes, requiring face coverings in public and placing limitations on bars and other venues.

The three major aspects of MDHHS’ executive order include: a requirement to wear masks at indoor and outdoor gatherings; limiting gathering sizes in venues with and without fixed seating; and limiting certain establishments, like bars, “where people can congregate, dance or otherwise mingle.”

Regarding the executive order, MDHHS Director Robert Gordon issued his own statement saying that “it is important we stay the course we’ve been on.” He cited schools being reopened, colder weather and flu season as causes of COVID case fluctuation.

“The science is clear: wearing masks can reduce the chance of transmitting COVID by about 70%,” he said. “Even with masks, transmission is likeliest when people are within 6 feet of each other for 15 minutes, especially indoors. The failure to take proper precautions can enable the disease to spread — whether in an East Lansing bar or at the White House.”

Hackel said he spoke with Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and state Sen. Paul Wojno following the Supreme Court ruling.

The concern, Hackel said, is that while the ruling struck down a 1945 law relating to Whitmer’s emergency powers, now MDHHS is enforcing its own emergency order. He said just like with seatbelt laws or the threshold with drunk driving, the state government needs to reach a policy consensus.

“Unfortunately, this thing is so polarized that masks have become a symbol of dissention,” he said. “You’re either on one side or another. I’m not on any side.”

Hackel used the example of schools reopening with different guidelines, saying policies like mask mandates “should not be done on piecemeal” and rather should be done through the state.

He wonders why engagement between the governor and the state Legislature did not occur from the beginning.

“The Legislature gave up their powers indefinitely to another branch of government,” he said. “You can’t do that.”

Oakland County, meanwhile, issued its own emergency order on Oct. 3 mandating masks. That was rescinded Oct. 5 when MDHHS issued its own emergency order.

“The local emergency order issued this weekend is now covered by the emergency order released today by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services,” said Leigh-Anne Stafford, Oakland County health officer, in a press release. “We must remain vigilant with wearing a face covering, social distancing and other protection measures to not regress in our fight against COVID-19.”

Hackel said he “couldn’t even imagine every county having their own mask order,” wondering how that could be enforced while traveling through various communities.

Some people will always follow the law, he acknowledged, while others will always ask for more clarification or understanding. Hackel said there is one question he continues to receive: “How long is this for?”

He said there needs to be an understanding on a wider scale, whether it’s related to a certain number of positive tests, a certain number of deaths, or certain dates which can open up society. If decisions made are related to a vaccine timetable, he wonders why state officials don’t just say so.

“It’s not being established and people get frustrated,” he said. “How do we illuminate that, and how do we get them on board? That’s been my question; it’s not a frustration. Get people to want to be part of this solution. Most people will.”

Hackel added that county businesses want more communication, all while county numbers have “leveled off and have for some time.”

He said a “new wave” of positive tests, including among the teenage age group, “isn’t unexpected” considering schools reopening and athletic activities. But local hospitals in metro Detroit do not have capacity issues in relation to positive tests.

“That cycles back to the frustration people are having, saying, ‘I thought the first goal was flatten the curve.’”

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