LANSING — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday, March 23, issued a “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order requiring Michigan businesses to suspend in-person operations from 12:01 a.m. March 24 through April 13 to help stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Exemptions to the order include operations that are part of the “critical infrastructure workforce” or those needed for “minimal basic operations.” Schools also will remain closed through April 13.
Although leaving one’s home for a non-essential reason is now illegal in Michigan as COVID-19 continues to spread, area police say it will be tough to enforce and they are asking people to be responsible and voluntarily adhere to the “shelter at home” mandate in the wake of the governor's Executive Order 2020-21 requiring all state residents to suspend unnecessary activities unless going out is necessary to sustain or protect life.
“We’re hoping the majority will follow the order. It’s going to be awfully hard to enforce,” said Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey.
Bailey said police would prefer that people voluntarily comply with the executive order, but his deputies will take action if needed to protect the health and safety of the community.
“We do have the right to stop people who are out driving, and we might ask them to prove they need to go somewhere,” the sheriff said.
He acknowledged, however, that trying to determine the reason a person is out driving will be difficult because there are a number of allowable reasons to be out, such as going to a grocery story.
“We’ll just have to talk to them, and determine what the truth is,” Bailey said.
A March 23 joint news release from the Berrien County Health Department, Spectrum Health Lakeland and the County as represented by the Sheriff's Department included the following information:
• With only a few exceptions, all public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring among persons not part of a single household are prohibited. When individuals do leave their homes, they must adhere to social distancing measures recommended by the CDC, including remaining at least six feet from people from outside the individual’s household to the extent feasible under the circumstances.
• Businesses and operations that employ critical infrastructure workers may continue in-person operations, but must adhere to social distancing practices and mitigation strategies to protect workers and patrons, including the promotion of remote work to the fullest extent possible and preventing workers from entering the premises if they display respiratory symptoms. Included in the list of critical infrastructure workers are restaurant employees and childcare workers, as restaurants can continue to provide carry-out/delivery food service and daycares can continue to operate to serve the children or dependents of critical infrastructure workers. Gas stations and grocery stores are also able to remain open for people to use.
• Individuals may leave their homes and travel as necessary, including for outdoor activity, to perform their jobs as critical infrastructure workers, and to conduct minimum basic operations, such as to perform tasks that are necessary to their health and safety, or to obtain necessary services or supplies for themselves or their loved ones. There is no need to rush to such places or to hoard supplies.
• There is currently NO evidence stating COVID-19 can be transmitted to or from our pets or companion animals. Animal Control Director Tiffany Peterson encourages individuals to visit the following link from the CDC that references their Frequently Asked Questions, or FAQ page, that is specific to COVID-19 for our furry friends at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html#animals. If you are in need of further information regarding sheltering your animals or other services currently being provided you are requested to call ahead to the Berrien County Animal Control at (269) 927-5648. Residents may visit Animal Control and other county department websites at www.berriencounty.org.
On March 26 Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic, after consulting on a conference call with a criminal division assistant Attorney General, gave local law enforcement guidance on the enforcement of Governor Whitmer’s Executive Order (EO 2020-21).
Sepic has encouraged local law enforcement to demonstrate to the public the importance of the “Stay at Home” Executive Order. He says the reasons and importance in light of the current situation with the coronavirus need not be restated. Sepic says it will be important for law enforcement to follow up on conduct they observe which may be in violation of the Order as well as take complaints from the public. Law enforcement is in a position to educate the public on the importance and the breadth of the Order. While originally the Attorney General believed her office would be in the forefront of enforcement and prosecution of Executive Order violations, EO 2020-21 has created far too many questions from the public and local law enforcement for one agency to handle. Thus, local authorities will deal with enforcement and prosecution.
Sepic has advised local law enforcement the use of warnings will be preferred to accomplish compliance in the first instance. Citations under MCL 33.10, a 90-day/$500 misdemeanor should be issued for non-compliance for technical violations where warnings are ignored. If the situation is one that appears to have clear public health consequences, an order by law enforcement to cease and desist that is ignored could result in an arrest for Resisting and Obstruction a Police Officer, a 2-year felony. He says some agencies are already inspecting businesses and issuing warnings. The Attorney General’s office will likely continue to review cases of price gouging.
Some businesses are specifically listed in EO 2020-21 as necessary to sustain and preserve life: Health care and public health; Law enforcement, public safety, and first responders; Food and agriculture; Energy; Water and wastewater; Transportation and logistics; Public works; Communications and information technology, including news media; Other community-based government operations and essential functions; Critical manufacturing; Hazardous materials; Financial services; Chemical supply chains and safety and Defense industrial base.
In addition, here are some examples of businesses not specifically listed that may operate but under the constraints of EO 2020-21 using a minimum number of workers and complying with social distance requirements: Oil change shop; Logging truck; Fixing farm machinery; Deliveries - if permissible activity; Medical marijuana store; Construction and repair of roads; Craft store supplying mask material.
And here are some examples of businesses that cannot open to the public: Residential construction; Door to door sales; Golf courses; Landscaping Nursery; Florist; Pet store (exclusively dealing with pets). However, some of these businesses may fall under paragraph 4 and 4(b) of the Executive Order which allows them to conduct minimum business operations “to maintain the value of inventory and equipment, care for animals, ensure security, process transactions (including payroll and employee benefits), or facilitate the ability of other workers to work remotely.”
Questions about EO 2020-21 enforcement should be directed to local law enforcement agencies using non-emergency numbers.
For more information about this “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order and to get answers to frequently asked questions, please visit Michigan.gov/coronavirus.
— Julie Swidwa conributed to this report