No penalties for violating Michigan face mask order

Health Officer: Greater Lansing cops won’t be ‘mask police’


FRIDAY, April 24 — Starting Monday, a gubernatorial mandate will require what many Lansing residents are already doing: wearing a mask. But without any penalties for violations, it seems enforcement will be left exclusively to the honor system.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced today she was extending her “Stay Safe, Stay Home” executive order through at least May 15 while also allowing businesses to reopen and relaxing restrictions on outdoor activity and travel. It also beefed up precautions for social distancing and wearing face masks in public.

Whitmer’s order mandates residents use face coverings while inside all indoor public spaces — like grocery stores, restaurants and convenience shops — just as long as they can “medically tolerate” wearing one. It also turns weeks of changing recommendations into requirements.

The order applies to employees as well as customers at every indoor business across the state. And Whitmer said businesses should feel free to turn away any customers without a mask.

But while a typical violation of the governor’s orders would net a misdemeanor charge, Whitmer’s latest order specifically exempts a failure to wear a mask from any criminal charges. As a result, enforcement is impossible without fines, fees or penalties of any kind, officials said.

“Our law enforcement folks do not have the time to go out and be the mask police,” explained Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail. “There’s no enforcement. As a result, that’s going to turn into self-enforcement. Stores don’t have to turn people away. That’s all up to them.”

While the new mandate doesn’t carry any actual criminal consequences for those who choose to ignore it, Whitmer has also encouraged businesses to stop customers from shopping inside their stores without wearing a face mask. Employees are obviously expected to set an example.

“My fervent hope is that people take this seriously,” Whitmer said. “Data shows that what we have done is working. We’ve saved lives in this process. The thing about public health: When you do it well, you never know how many lives you saved.”

A spokeswoman for Whitmer’s office explained the lack of consequences behind the order.

“Most Michiganders are doing the right thing. And while masks are absolutely crucial it shouldn't be a crime to decline to wear one, especially as the public gets used to the new requirement,” she told City Pulse.

In Lansing, employer policies on face masks can vary widely. Protective coverings are either optional or very loosely required among employees at big-box stores like Meijer, Kroger and Target. Some wear them. Many more do not. It’s a personal choice.

Employees at many other local businesses — including several restaurants still serving carryout — aren’t wearing masks at all. Under Whitmer’s order, employers will have to start providing them, but there will still be no enforcement mechanism that requires them to be worn inside.

Dozens of shoppers leaving Walmart and Sam’s Club off Lake Lansing Road weren’t wearing masks today either. Some are still forming new habits and simply forgot them at home or left them in their cars. Several were worried about the virus, but the masks induce claustrophobia.

And others that willingly refused to put on masks labeled them as an unnecessary precaution.

“I’m not going to live in fear of a bug,” added William Loachridge. “I’ll follow the rules and the guidelines on social distancing and be smart about this, but I have no plans to wear a mask.”

“I can’t wear one. I’m just too claustrophobic for it,” said Edith Robles. “I would get anxiety and all of that stuff that comes along with it. As long as I don’t touch my face, I’ll be fine.”

Another shopper had two masks in her purse but skipped the protection because it was just a “quick trip” inside. Several others talked about their plans to make their own masks soon. And one elderly man in a “Make America Great Again” hat recognized he was making a mistake.

“I’m stupid,” he told a City Pulse. “I really should be wearing one, but I’m just stupid.”

Although Whitmer’s order seems more encouragement than mandate, some businesses in Greater Lansing have already proactively fallen in line with the new directions. Henry Meyer, owner of Eastside Fish Fry — as of today — said he is requiring his entire staff to wear masks.

Zaytoon’s Mediterranean Restaurant in Lansing will also provide masks. And in a Facebook message, Quality Dairy told City Pulse that masks have been ordered and all associates will be required to wear them — including those servicing curbside pickup and delivery orders.

Employees at smaller businesses like Great Lakes Ace Hardware in Frandor and Westlund’s Apple Market are also encouraging staff to wear masks but not necessarily requiring it just yet. A cashier at Westlund’s wore one today, but manager Celia Breininger kept hers in her pocket.

“If you have masks, wear them. I’m not going to kick them in the butt if they don’t have them right now,” Breininger added. “We’re going to put postings on the door to encourage people to wear them, but what are we doing to do? Kick them out? I’d ask them to wear one. That’s it.”

Breininger knows it’d be safer to wear a mask on the job, but he said they can be uncomfortable.

“Everyday there is something new that we have to do,” she added. “We’re all working on it.”

Brian Hackett, assistant manager at Ace Hardware in Frandor, provides his employees with masks but also isn’t too strict about whether they’re worn. Some staff had masks on today; others did not. And at least two employees had them pushed down below their nose anyway.

“We’re trying to stay safe,” Hackett said. “We’ve been big on limiting the number of people in our store and on the social distancing. We’re wiping everything down. We’re working on it.”

While not necessarily an enforceable mandate, Vail recommends all employees that still physically report to work and interact with other people to wear a mask while indoors. She also cautions that they also need to be worn properly over the face and sanitized on a frequent basis.

“It is required, but since it’s not enforced, that means people are pretty much free to do what they want to do,” Vail added. “It does allow customers to say to others: You’re supposed to be wearing a mask. Perhaps that type of peer pressure enforcement will work to enforce it too.”

Federal and local guidance on face masks has repeatedly shifted. Vail initially instructed residents not to wear a mask at all unless they were sick. The narrative changed earlier this month when Vail — among other officials — recommended them for healthy people too.

When it comes to warding off airborne coronavirus droplets, cloth masks are neither panacea or placebo. Social distancing is still the most effective way to avoid viral spew from other human beings. But health officials now say a mask is a helpful secondary line of protection.

Federal guidelines recommend wearing cloth face coverings “in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain,” such as grocery stores, “to slow the spread of the virus” and prevent people who may unknowingly have the virus from transmitting it.

No matter how careful residents are to keep a social distance, even just when ducking into a restaurant for carryout or walking along the River Trail, personal space can be violated quickly and unexpectedly, and the virus could then be passed along from a simple cough or sneeze.

Experts have been largely divided on whether masks help to prevent the wearer from getting the virus. Concerns have been raised — and echoed by Vail — over how careless mask handling could actually make things worse or cause the wearer to become careless about social distance.

Click here for a CDC tutorial on sewing masks and how to wear them properly.

(Lawerence Cosentino, Skyler Ashley and Cole Tunningley contributed to this story.)


2 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • Carolann123456

    I will not be forced to wear a mask!!! This is not a communist country yet! People have a right to wear one if they want to, or not to wear one if that is their choice.

    Saturday, April 25, 2020 Report this

  • Harley

    Kyle Kaminski....did you conveniently leave out the name of the "one elderly man in a “Make America Great Again” since you were able to get the names of the others quoted. Some readers still have critical thinking skills to see right through your fictitious "elderly man".

    Monday, April 27, 2020 Report this

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