New Order Eases Michigan’s Mask Requirements

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The Detroit News
May 4, 2021
Craig Mauger

Lansing — Masks will generally not be required outdoors in Michigan and fully vaccinated people who are not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms won’t have to wear masks at indoor residential gatherings under a new order from the state Department of Health and Human Services.

The order, announced Tuesday night, takes effect Thursday and comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed its guidance for outdoor mask-wearing. The new policy marks the most drastic change yet in Michigan benefiting fully vaccinated individuals.

“The commitment by Michiganders to receive the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is allowing us to move toward a return to normal,” said Elizabeth Hertel, director of the state health department. “The vaccines work. That means once Michiganders are fully vaccinated, they do not have to abide by as many health guidelines because of the protection the vaccine provides from the spread of the virus.”

Under an April 19 order, fully vaccinated people — those who had their final dose two weeks earlier — didn’t have to wear masks at residential gatherings if all individuals involved were fully vaccinated. The updated order doesn’t include the restriction that all participants are fully vaccinated.

As of Tuesday, about 3.2 million residents, about 39% of the state’s adult population, have had their complete vaccinations. About 4.1 million residents, about 51% have at least their initial dose.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said vaccines “give you the freedom and peace of mind to be able to do more things.”

“Getting your vaccine is the most important thing you can do to protect yourself, your family, and your community,” Khaldun said.

Under the new policy, which expires May 31, masks will generally not be required outdoors unless a gathering has 100 or more people, and routine testing for fully vaccinated participants in organized sports will no longer be required if they are asymptomatic. The state issued separate guidance on large events and athletics Tuesday.

Masks continue to be required for contact sports but are no longer required outdoors during active practice and competition for non-contact sports, according to a press release. Softball and baseball players will be required to wear masks in the dugout but not when at bat or playing first base, the release said.

The new order also allows large outdoor events, including festivals, fairs, and golf tournaments, to exceed the current 1,000-person limit as long as they create and post a safety plan and no more than 20 persons per 1,000 square feet are gathered in any space available to patrons.

Similarly, outdoor residential gatherings can be larger in some situations. They’re generally capped at 50 people. But now, if density does not exceed 20 people per 1,000 square feet of outdoor space, up to 300 people can be gathered.

After a surge in infections and hospitalizations, Michigan’s COVID-19 rates have been decreasing since about mid-April. Last week, the state reported 25,065 new cases, about 47% less than the total from two weeks earlier.

However, Michigan continues to lead the nation in new cases per population.

Last week, the CDC issued new guidance relaxing recommendations for mask use outdoors. The federal guidance says vaccinated people can attend a small, outdoor gathering without wearing masks. It also says that unvaccinated people don’t have to wear masks if they’re exercising outside with members of their household or meeting outdoors with fully vaccinated individuals.

The new epidemic order from the state came five days after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer unveiled her plan for the end of the pandemic in Michigan. That plan ties easing restrictions to the percentage of adult residents who have their initial COVID-19 vaccine dose. Whitmer’s “MI Vacc to Normal” plan will phase out restrictions on gatherings and businesses as the percentage moves from 55% to 70%.

Two weeks after the state hits 55% of its population with an initial dose, the administration will allow in-person work for all sectors of business to resume. Currently, work is supposed to be done remotely if feasible.

The administration will ease limitations on gyms, stadiums, and banquet halls and drop an 11 p.m. curfew on bars and restaurants two weeks after the state hits 60%. Two weeks after 65% is reached, indoor capacity limits will be lifted and restrictions on residential social gatherings will be relaxed.

At 70%, Whitmer’s administration will lift the state’s epidemic order on gatherings and face masks and “no longer employ broad mitigation measures unless unanticipated circumstances arise, such as the spread of vaccine-resistant variants,” according to a press release.

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