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Whitmer loosens COVID-19 restrictions; Michiganders can return to work

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday updated COVID-19 emergency rules in place the past 14 months to allow Michiganders to return to in-person work.

This rollback follows a lousy weekend for Whitmer, who was exposed on social media while breaking her own COVID-19 rules in an East Lansing bar seated with 13 people. Her orders require “no more than 6 patrons are seated together,” which threatens a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for up to six months, or a fine of not more than $200.00, or both. The same weekend, Wall Street Journal editors chose her as the topic of its Weekend op-ed, in which the editors excoriated her for her Line 5 stance. 

The new order will eliminate outdoor capacity limits and increase indoor social gatherings to 50% capacity on June 1.

“As we work to put Michigan back to work, we are moving quickly to invest in our families, small businesses, and communities to help them succeed,” Whitmer said in a statement issued Monday morning. “The reason we can take these steps is thanks to every Michigander who has stepped up and taken action to keep themselves, their families, and their communities safe. Together, we are eliminating this once-in-a-century virus, and now we are poised to jumpstart our economy and power it to new highs.”

The agreement follows Whitmer and the GOP-led Legislature fighting for more than a year on COVID-19 response.

The Legislature will negotiate the budget with Whitmer in return for Whitmer abandoning her threat to make COVID-19 restrictions permanent through the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (MIOSHA).

MIOSHA has removed the requirement that employers must create a “policy prohibiting in-person work for employees to the extent that their work activities can feasibly be completed remotely.” The agency rescinded the draft permanent COVID-19 rules and canceled a public hearing scheduled May 26.

“As we work with the administration to get back to normal, protecting Michigan workers on the job remains the top priority for MIOSHA,” Michigan Dept. of Labor and Economic Opportunity Acting Director Susan Corbin said in a statement. “These updated emergency rules will give workers and businesses the clarity and confidence they need to bring our economy back to full-strength.”

MIOSHA has updated its guidance

  • Employers may allow fully vaccinated employees to not wear face coverings and social distance provided they have a policy deemed effective to ensure non-vaccinated individuals continue to follow these requirements.
  • The rules have been reformed focusing on performance, eliminating industry-specific requirements. Definitions have been updated to more clearly reflect changes in close contact and quarantining requirements for fully vaccinated employees.
  • Cleaning requirements have been updated to reflect changes in CDC recommendations.
  • Employers should continue to have and implement a written COVID-19 preparedness and response plan in accordance with the updated rules.

 The new MDHHS order starting June 1 will require masks worn indoors for those who aren’t fully vaccinated. That broad mandate will end July 1.

 ”The COVID-19 vaccine is the most important tool we have to reduce the spread of the virus. The vaccines are safe and effective and vaccinated people can do so many more things safely,” Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said in a statement. “We have made great progress with our vaccination efforts, but the pandemic is not over. We are working to make sure vaccines are accessible to everyone at their doctor’s office, in their neighborhoods, or even in their homes. By getting vaccinated as soon as possible Michiganders can protect themselves, their families and their communities and help end this pandemic as quickly as possible.”

The news will be welcome to local businesses that rely on foot traffic. However, The Detroit News reported 26,000 state workers won’t return to the office before July 12.

This article was originally posted on Whitmer loosens COVID-19 restrictions; Michiganders can return to work

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