Back in the Old Routine?
Michigan and other states quickly changed policies after the CDC lifted mask mandates: What’s next?
BRIGHTON, Mich. — It was like a light switch clicking: Thursday morning, nearly everyone at morning religious services “masked up.” By Friday morning, just 10 percent did so.
From daily Masses at churches to gyms to offices, bars, and restaurants, old habits and routines returned quickly once the Biden administration’s Centers for Disease Control announced that vaccinated Americans could start removing masks, even indoors.
But when people can return to their old routines, will they go back to their old habits or keep wearing masks voluntarily?
“The vast majority of us have trusted the scientists and experts to keep us safe during the pandemic, and it has worked,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in announcing Michigan would adopt the federal guideline allowing vaccinated individuals to drop the masks in most cases. “With millions of Michiganders fully vaccinated, we can now safely and confidently take the next step to get back to normal.”
By noon Friday, Michigan officials announced they would comply with the policy changes, lifting the mask order to vaccinated adults effective 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 15, while saying non-vaccinated should wear masks until July 1. But as of 7 p.m. Friday, the new rules weren’t yet posted online.
Some businesses are retaining their mask rules, noting they have no way to tell who has and hasn’t been vaccinated. More than 55 percent of Michigan adults have received one or more vaccine doses, but Republican lawmakers strongly oppose vaccine passports, identifying who isn’t vaccinated.
Major, high-traffic businesses like the Kroger and Meijer grocery chains said they would continue requiring customers to wear masks in their stories. Confusion is possible as some states — including New York and California — retaining their mask restrictions.
More than 18,500 Michigan residents have died from the pandemic though cases have dropped recently as of Friday. State health officials another 1,766 new coronavirus cases and 34 deaths to the totals.
The devil is in the details: Who enforces the new policy — and how?
For more than a year, Hamburg Fitness Center near Brighton has lost members due to state regulations requiring restrictions with its most popular accommodations, including the locker rooms, hot tub, sauna, and pool.
For months the members who hadn’t suspended memberships had to work out in masks. But as of Thursday, the club emailed members saying, “That moment that everyone was hoping and waiting for is almost here. However, because this news is so recent, as a business for the health and wellbeing of everyone, we need time to discuss our plan.”
Jennifer Rock, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Retailers Association, asked Bridge Michigan, “how is a retailer supposed to police this in their stores?”
Similarly, Justin Winslow, president of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association and other business people, asked how a business polices the new rules:
- If someone isn’t wearing a mask and doesn't have a vaccination card, how does a restaurant owner know the person has been vaccinated?
- If people aren’t required to show proof of vaccination, how do businesses know the people have been vaccinated?
- If a customer grows angry at being challenged, how does the business keep them as a customer?
- In the early months of the pandemic, before the state-mandated masks, there were cases of customers and security people quarreling about not wearing masks. A Flint dispute escalated into a shooting. Windslow said he was concerned about putting workers “in harm’s way.”
Michigan Republicans, meanwhile, said Michigan should allow residents to decide about masks themselves without orders, following the lead of other states and drop the emergency orders.
“It’s time to fully re-open and end-all capacity restrictions in Michigan,” Michigan GOP Communications Director Ted Goodman said. “Gov. Whitmer just admitted her ridiculous ‘Vacc to Normal’ campaign, and 70 percent vaccination marker had nothing to do with actual science by lifting the mask mandate due to CDC guidelines. Gov. Whitmer must immediately lift all capacity restrictions and allow our restaurants, bars, and small businesses to fully reopen.”
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said lifting the mask requirement was “long overdue” and called on the administration “to trust people rather than issue a confusing enforcement mandate on law enforcement, business owners, or others to pry into citizens’ private medical decisions.”