New MDHHS order tightens rules for gatherings
Fri, 10/30/2020 - 1:40pm caleb
Region 6 no longer has different regulations, all of Michigan is now in Phase 4 of the MI Safe Start Plan
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), in response to rising COVID-19 numbers in the state, updated its “Gatherings and Face Mask Order” on Thursday, October 29, tightening some restrictions on gatherings in Michigan.
The new version of the MDHHS Emergency Order – signed by Robert Gordon, Director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services – removes exceptions and special rules for Region 6 (which includes Crawford County and most of northern Michigan), putting all of Michigan under the same regulations.
For months, Region 6 and Region 8 were in Phase 5 of the state’s MI Safe Start Plan – Michigan’s guide for navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic – while the rest of the state remained in Phase 4.
On October 9, Michigan Governor Whitmer issued Executive Order 2020-192, which moved Region 8 (the Upper Peninsula) back to Phase 4. It’s the last Executive Order on the list; in early October, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that executive orders issued after April 30 were not valid.
The MI Safe Start Plan, according to michigan.gov, includes six phases related to the state’s COVID-19 condition: 1) Uncontrolled Growth; 2) Persistent Spread; 3) Flattening; 4) Improving; 5) Containing; 6) Post Pandemic.
In Phase 4, restrictions are more stringent for schools, but changes are expected to be minimal for the Crawford AuSable School District. According to school officials, the biggest change with the new restrictions will be increased face mask usage for Grayling Elementary School students.
“In our planning for the start of the year, the majority of our COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan was written using Phase 4 protocols. Ultimately, the Phase 4 designation and new orders should have minimal impact on our plan and current operations,” said Justin Gluesing, Crawford AuSable School District Superintendent.
“There are some changes that will impact our schools. Most notably, face masks are now mandatory for all students in grades K-12. Again, this will not impact or change our protocols for our middle and high school buildings. It will change the requirement slightly for our elementary students. Until today, (Grayling Elementary School) students were required to wear masks in common areas, hallways, common classrooms like our STEM lab, etc. Now they will be required to wear masks at all times. Students can still remove masks for meals, when outdoors and able to maintain social distancing, or when receiving a service for which removal of the face mask is necessary,” Gluesing said.
The new Gatherings and Face Mask Order from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services tightens restrictions on indoor gatherings.
“The only way to beat COVID is to act on what we’ve learned since March,” Gordon said. “Wear masks. Keep six feet of distance. Wash hands. And avoid the indoor get-togethers where we have seen COVID explode.”
“As part of the newly extended orders, MDHHS today reduces from 500 persons to 50 persons the maximum gathering size for indoor gatherings such as weddings, parties, and banquets which occur in nonresidential settings without fixed seating. This change responds to global evidence that COVID’s explosive growth is powered by events where large-scale outbreaks have occurred, and that indoor settings are as much as 20 times likelier to drive outbreaks than outdoor settings. Currently Michigan counts 34 outbreaks related to social events such as trips by families/friends, bridal showers and weddings (3-10 cases); funerals (9-22 cases); and outings at social clubs and bowling parties (6-19 cases). An additional 19 outbreaks of up to 52 cases are linked to church services, which are exempt from enforcement under the order,” according to the Gatherings and Face Mask Order.
The MDHHS, in the order, says it has the duty and the authority to issue emergency orders during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Michigan law imposes on the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) a duty to continually and diligently endeavor to ‘prevent disease, prolong life, and promote public health,’ and gives the Department ‘general supervision of the interests of health and life of people of this state.’ MDHHS may ‘exercise authority and promulgate rules to safeguard properly the public health; to prevent the spread of diseases and the existence of sources of contamination; and to implement and carry out the powers and duties vested by law in the department,’” according to the Gatherings and Face Mask Order.
Michigan law says that if “the director determines that control of an epidemic is necessary to protect the public health, the director by emergency order may prohibit the gathering of people for any purpose and may establish procedures to be followed during the epidemic to insure continuation of essential public health services and enforcement of health laws,” according to the new order.
The department says COVID-19 numbers are on the rise again in the state.
“The State of Michigan presently has 172 cases per million people and positivity of tests has increased from about 2% to 5.5%. Both indicators have been increasing for over four weeks,” according to the Gatherings and Face Mask Order. “Rising cases creates significant pressures on our emergency and hospital system. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have doubled over the last three weeks. There are more than 5% COVID hospitalizations in all regions except Traverse City. The state death rate has increased for five consecutive weeks to 2.1 deaths per million people. Due to delays between exposure, onset of symptoms, and hospitalization, the sharp rise in new infections heralds challenging weeks to come, with growing strain on our healthcare infrastructure. To protect vulnerable individuals, ensure the health care system can provide care for all health issues, and prevent spread in schools as we head into the influenza season, we must not permit the spread of COVID-19 to further increase.”
The latest Gatherings and Face Mask Order, in the “general capacity limitations” section, restricts indoor gatherings to “10 or fewer persons at a residence,” “50 or fewer persons in a non-residential venue without fixed seating, and attendance is limited to 20 persons per 1,000 square feet in each occupied room,” and “500 or fewer persons in a non-residential venue with fixed seating, and attendance is limited to 20% of seating capacity of the venue.” The order says people must wear a face mask “at non-residential gatherings.”
For outdoor gatherings, the order says 100 or fewer people are allowed at a residence, 1,000 or fewer are allowed “at a venue without fixed seating, and attendance is limited to 30 persons per 1,000 square feet,” and 1,000 or fewer are allowed “at a venue with fixed seating, and attendance is limited to 30% of seating capacity of the venue.” The order says all people at outdoor gatherings have to wear a face mask.
The order says that “organizers and venues hosting gatherings” “must design the gathering to encourage and maintain physical distancing, and must ensure that persons not part of the same household maintain six feet of distance from one another to the extent possible.”
The Gatherings and Face Mask Order institutes a limit of six people per table for “food service establishments.” It continues the previous order’s prohibition of gathering in “common areas in which people can congregate, dance, or otherwise mingle” at food service places and limits total capacity to “50% of normal seating capacity.” The order continues the rule that “customers must wait outside the food service establishment if table or bar top seating is unavailable.”
“For bars, restaurants, and social events outside private homes, indoor party sizes at a single table are now restricted to six people. Because individuals remove their masks while eating and drinking in indoor settings, seated tables with people from different households create high risks of spread. Like many other businesses in Michigan, bars and restaurants will also be required to take names and contact information to support effective contact tracing if necessary. Research published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that visiting restaurants is a risk factor for COVID positivity, and currently there are 12 outbreaks in Michigan associated with bars or restaurants with currently active clusters up to 12 cases,” according to the order.
The Gatherings and Face Mask Order has specific capacity limit rules for several different facilities: “retail store, library, or museum, 50% of total occupancy limits”; “recreational sports and exercise facilities, 25% of the total occupancy limits”; “outdoor pool, 50% of bather capacity limits”; “indoor pool, 25% of bather capacity limits”; “non-tribal casinos, 15% of total occupancy limits.”
The “organized sports” section continues to mandate that athletes wear face masks in “any sport in which the participants are not able to consistently maintain six feet of distance, (including, for example, football, soccer, basketball, or volleyball).” The section says spectators should be limited “to the guests of the athletes, with each athlete designating up to two guests” or the venue must adhere to the indoor or outdoor “general capacity limitations” section in the Gatherings and Face Mask Order.
The order offers a few exceptions to the state-wide mask wearing requirements.
“The requirement to wear a face mask in this order does not apply to individuals who: Are younger than 5 years old, outside of child-care organization setting; Cannot medically tolerate a face mask; Are eating or drinking while seated at a food service establishment; Are exercising outdoors and able to consistently maintain six feet of distance from others; Are swimming; Are receiving a service for which removal of the face mask is necessary; Are asked to temporarily remove a face mask for identification purposes; Are communicating with someone who is deaf, deafblind, or hard of hearing and whose ability to see the mouth is essential to communication; Are actively engaged in a public safety role; Are at a polling place for purposes of voting in an election; Are engaging in a religious service; or Are giving a speech for broadcast or to an audience, provided that the audience is at least six feet away from the speaker.”
The October 29 order has rules for several different types of businesses – including restaurants – to collect names and phone numbers of patrons for the purposes of “contact tracing.”
“Gatherings are prohibited at the following facilities unless the facility maintains accurate records, including date and time of entry, names of patrons, and contact information, to aid with contact tracing, and denies entry for a gathering to any visitor who does not provide, at a minimum, their name and phone number: All businesses or operations that provide barbering, cosmetology services, body art services (including tattooing and body piercing), tanning services, massage services, or similar personal care services; Recreational sports and exercise facilities, and entertainment facilities (except for outdoor, non-ticketed events), including arenas, cinemas, concert halls, performance venues, sporting venues, stadiums and theaters, as well as places of public amusement, such as amusement parks, arcades, and bingo halls,” according to the order.
“All businesses or operations that provide in-home services, including cleaners, repair persons, painters, and the like must not permit their employees to gather with clients unless the business maintains accurate appointment records, including date and time of service, name of client, and contact information, to aid with contact tracing. All dine-in food service establishments must maintain accurate records of the names and phone numbers of patrons who purchase food for consumption on the premises, and the date and time of entry. Upon request, businesses, schools, and other facilities must provide names and phone numbers of individuals with possible COVID-19 exposure to MDHHS and local health departments to aid in contact tracing and case investigation efforts,” according to the Gatherings and Face Mask Order.
The last section of the order – “implementation” – says “violation of this order is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 6 months, or a fine of not more than $200.00, or both” and “violations of this order are also punishable by a civil fine of up to $1,000 for each violation or day that a violation continues.”
The Gatherings and Face Mask Order took effect “immediately,” except for the provision which says “dine-in food service establishments must maintain accurate records of the names and phone numbers of patrons who purchase food for consumption on the premises,” a section that went into effect on November 2.
“The orders that MDHHS has issued are centered on keeping the public safe and following best practices to reduce the spread of this deadly virus. The alarming surge we are now seeing is exactly why we were so worried about the fall season. We must remain vigilant, so we prevent long-term health consequences and unnecessary deaths, and protect our hospital capacity and the health of our frontline health workers,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Chief Medical Executive and Chief Deputy for Health at MDHHS.
“With a dramatic increase in the numbers of cases, number of inpatients in the Munson Healthcare system and increasing community spread, Director Gordon’s order provides much-needed clarity about how to control the pandemic in our community,” said Dr. Christine A. Nefcy, MD, FAAP, Chief Medical Officer, Munson Healthcare. “These measures are critical to ensuring our success in keeping our workforce healthy, our schools and businesses operational, and our community safe from this serious infectious disease.”