Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a rollback of COVID-19 workplace restrictions during a press conference Monday in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Workers who have been fully vaccinated are no longer required to wear masks or distance in their workplaces as long as the employer has a policy to differentiate requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated employees. Whitmer also announced changes to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) epidemic order on face masks and capacities, removing outdoor capacity limits and the curfew on bars and restaurants as well as allowing indoor gatherings at 50% capacity, effective June 1.
Whitmer celebrated the announcement as a chance for Michiganders to continue the return to normal.
“We can enjoy the occasions and ceremonies that we had to forego last year, celebrating birthdays and graduations, family reunions and weddings together,” Whitmer said. “The reason we can take these steps is because the people of our state stepped up and took this moment seriously and kept themselves in their families and their communities safe.”
Office workers can also return to their offices, even if their work could be done remotely. Andy Johnson, vice president of government affairs of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, expressed at the press conference his excitement at the potential of a return to office work.
“We look forward to seeing (office workers) come back because from Grand Rapids to Lansing, Detroit to Marquette, it’s going to be wonderful to see our office buildings and downtowns reactivated and re-invigorated,” Johnson said. “As was mentioned, the return to office brings increased productivity, innovation, collaboration, and a social environment that also contributes to a positive mental health status.”
The guidelines further loosen requirements for cleaning at Michigan workplaces to keep those requirements consistent with CDC guidelines, which allow a business to clean low-risk surfaces as infrequently as once a day.
Susan Corbin, director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, said the state wants to help employers support their employees, not punish them for violations.
“We believe that employers want to do the right thing for their employees,” Corbin said. “Throughout the pandemic, (Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has focused on providing employers with the resources they need to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Providing education and assistance to employers so that they can do things the right way is a far more effective way to protect workers than citing employers after they have gotten things wrong.”
In an email to The Michigan Daily, University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen wrote that the University is reviewing the regulations but has not yet decided to change its guidelines. Currently, individuals are not required to wear a mask outdoors on University property, but must wear a mask indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
William McAllister, general manager for transportation and waste management at the University, wrote in an email to The Daily he is encouraged by the change but expects behavior to lag behind the state guidance.
“I would anticipate that once (The U-M Department of Environment, Health and Safety) has a chance to digest MIOSHA’s new guidelines, they will communicate new guidelines that the University community will follow,” McAllister wrote. “EHS usually mimics what the state does.”
Whitmer said all remaining mask and gathering mandates will be lifted July 1, meeting a Biden administration goal of getting “closer to normal” by July 4.
Summer Daily News Editor Dominic Coletti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org