MichMash: Whitmer’s Mask Order Has Teeth, But Will Local Law Enforcement Bite?

Some local officials have said they won’t give out fines for people and businesses who violate the order.

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has been urging residents to mask up in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. She’s issued several orders and for the first time it looks like they have some teeth.

“The governor has been really straightforward on saying that basically these are a tool that we have, and we don’t have a lot of tools.” — Emily Lawler, MLive.

But it’s been confusing for some people. What are the rules? What happens if you don’t follow them? And what does it mean that some members of law enforcement aren’t going to enforce the orders?


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Last week the governor “re-upped’ her requirement that people wear masks, not only indoors but now also in crowded outdoor spaces.

“The governor has been really straightforward on saying that basically these are a tool that we have, and we don’t have a lot of tools. Right now, we don’t have a vaccine. We don’t have a cure. But we do have this one simple, cheap, relatively effective method that we can use to try to slow the transmission of this disease,” says MLive’s lead reporter for state news and politics Emily Lawler, discussing the governor’s position on masks.

“A lot of local sheriffs, local police departments have said that that’s not something they’re going to do. Either they don’t have time for that, or, you know, in some cases, just not a priority.”

The mask requirements have gotten a lot of push back with opponent arguments ranging from them being uncomfortable to it violates rights. However, there are exceptions to the mask requirements, like if you have a medical condition or if you’re giving a speech, says Lawler.

For the first time, last week’s revised order put penalties in place for not wearing a mask. You could be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $500, Lawler says.

“But that does rely on someone enforcing that, and a lot of local sheriffs, local police departments have said that that’s not something they’re going to do,” she says. “Either they don’t have time for that, or, you know, in some cases, just not a priority.”

Which means there could be a ‘patchwork’ of enforcement across the state, and if you go to law enforcement to report that a person or business is not following the order, depending on where you live, that complaint might get ignored.

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Authors

  • Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.

  • Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.