Michigan health agency issues mask, other virus restrictions

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s health department issued a mask requirement and other coronavirus restrictions Monday, just days after the state Supreme Court invalidated a 75-year-old emergency powers law that underpinned Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s orders to control the pandemic.

The Democratic governor separately asked the court to declare its Friday ruling not binding until Oct. 30, to give her administration, the Republican-led Legislature and local health departments time to transition. GOP leaders questioned delaying the court’s decision and prepared to return to session to codify an undetermined number of her 30-plus orders into law, such as one extending base unemployment benefits to 26 weeks from 20 weeks.

The ruling nullified all virus-related orders issued after April 30. It means Whitmer must negotiate with lawmakers to extend a state of emergency and any new orders she writes.

However, the administration can control an epidemic under a 1978 public health law that was not at issue in the case, though its authority is narrower. Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon required the wearing of masks at non-residential indoor and outdoor gatherings and limited gathering sizes.

“We know that masks work. It’s on all of us to do our part and to have some personal responsibility keeping ourselves, our families and our economy going,” Whitmer told reporters following a campaign event for a lawmaker in Davison.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey has made clear he opposes putting a mask requirement into law. On Monday, he also resisted codifying limits on restaurant capacity, gatherings and event sizes. He pointed to increased testing and the improved treatment of the infected since the pandemic’s early days.

Shirkey said there is “no way” businesses, nonprofits and schools would want to put people at risk. “Based on seven months of daily learnings, I think everybody’s pretty well prepared now to make those kinds of decisions for their own unique circumstances,” he said.

Both Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield called into question Whitmer’s motion that the court ruling not be effective for 28 days.

Whitmer warned that people could lose unemployment benefits if the court’s decision took effect immediately, and called on lawmakers to return to session instead of recessing until after the November election.

The governor said the “fallout” from the high court’s decision was “still being ascertained.”

“We’re studying it to make sure that where we can act we do, where there are gaps to be filled we work to do that as well,” she said. “I am by no means undeterred or finished trying to protect the health of the people of this state.”

In asking the Supreme Court to clarify when its opinion should be enforced, the state cited a court rule to argue it should take effect after 21 to 28 days.

Over the weekend, some large counties issued their own COVID-19 restrictions, which included mask requirements.

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