MONDAY, March 22 — The Michigan chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture ignored state and local restrictions on face masks in Lansing today as COVID-19 case rates continue to climb.
More than two dozen people gathered indoors today at the Fenner Nature Center in Lansing as part of a three-day prep course offered by the Society of Arboriculture. None of them — including ISM Executive Director Annie Kruise — were wearing face masks this afternoon.
“This is a private, educational event,” Kruise said, declining to comment further about the issue.
Over the last month, Michigan’s COVID-19 case rates jumped 77% to 172.9 cases per million people, reports the Detroit Free Press. The percentage of positive cases also climbed 177% in the last four weeks. On Friday, Michigan tallied 3,730 new COVID-19 cases — the most reported since early January. Greater Lansing tracked about 800 new cases over the last week.
That apparently marked good timing for the Society of Arboriculture to rent out the Susan and Jack Davis Nature Pavilion for a private, three-day arborist prep class, which began today and continues through Wednesday at the Fenner Nature Center. At least 25 people were attending, a City Pulse reporter observed firsthand.
State health orders issued this month allow for indoor events like the Society of Arboriculture’s prep courses to continue at Fenner, but they expressly require masking and social distancing. Chairs lining four rows of seating at this morning's class were also not spaced at least six feet apart.
Chris Maltby, owner of Dewitt Tree Care, said he left in frustration earlier this morning after Kruise had refused his request that guests be required to wear face masks at the event. Maltby paid $250 to attend. Tickets for the full three-day course were listed for up to $280 each.
“I’m not super concerned about the refund, but this took a lot of time and preparation to set aside for this,” Maltby added. “People in this field are usually bright. We’re talking doctors, scientists — people that very much believe in science who are blatantly disregarding this.”
Rules on the Fenner Nature Center website state that visitors are “asked” to wear masks while indoors and to keep a six-foot distance from others. Executive Director Liz Roxberry said the group has since been asked to adhere to state restrictions and will “work to rectify” the situation.
She also attempted to kill this story today, threatening to “rethink” the Fenner Nature Center’s relationship with City Pulse if it was published. The last thing she needs is “bad press,” she said.
Fenner has advertised in City Pulse, which has reported on events and worked with Fenner to support its fundraising efforts.
Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail usually has Health Department representatives or local cops (like the Lansing Police Department) crack down on violations shortly they’re reported.
Rental regulations at the Nature Center facilities — which is owned by the city of Lansing — also require guests to “adhere to the capacity limits and safety precautions.” City officials said the Society of Arboriculture, as part of its rental agreement for the indoor pavilion, is contractually obligated to comply with local and state law, including state epidemic orders.
“We expect that they’ll comply,” said Valerie Marchand, a spokeswoman for Mayor Andy Schor.
The Michigan Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture was founded in 2006 and is a nonprofit organization that provides certification for arborists. Members include arborists, urban foresters, municipal and utility foresters, tree trimmers, climbers and other tree professionals.
Maltby and other guests may also not receive refunds. Those were strictly required in writing seven days ago, according to online ticketing information from the Society of Arboriculture.