Gov. Gretchen Whitmer April 14

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the public on April 14 as Michigan faces the highest COVID-19 rates in the nation.

(The Center Square) – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday announced the state health department will align its policy with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest guidance on face coverings starting Saturday at 9 a.m.

“For more than a year, we’ve been following the best data and science to slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives,” Whitmer said in a statement. “The vast majority of us have trusted the scientists and experts to keep us safe during the pandemic, and it has worked. With millions of Michiganders fully vaccinated, we can now safely and confidently take the next step to get back to normal. The message is clear: vaccines work to protect you and your loved ones. If you have not yet received your vaccine, now is the time to sign up. This pandemic has been one of the toughest challenges of our lifetimes, but we came together as a state to persevere. We have all been working incredibly hard toward getting back to some sense of normalcy, and today's news makes all of that work worthwhile.”

On Thursday, the CDC released updated guidance recommending “fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”

The updated Gatherings and Mask Order doesn’t require Michiganders, vaccinated or unvaccinated, to wear a mask outdoors. While indoors, fully vaccinated Michiganders will no longer need to wear a mask, but residents who aren’t vaccinated, or have not completed their vaccinations, must continue to wear a mask.

The new order drops the broad indoor mask mandate after July 1. Before this, Whitmer had refused to set an exact date and instead tied dropping COVID-19 restrictions with vaccination numbers.

“It’s critical that eligible Michigan residents who have not yet been vaccinated schedule their appointments as soon as they can,” Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said in a statement. “Getting shots in arms is the best way to end the pandemic. If you have not yet been vaccinated, it is important to continue to mask up to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.”

Michigan has administered 7,8 million vaccines. According to CDC data, 55.6% of Michiganders ages 16 and older have received at least one dose, with more than 43% percent of Michiganders ages 16 and older being fully vaccinated. The state has also administered the vaccine to 927 Michiganders between the ages of 12 to 15 years old.

“The safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine and all the hard work that Michiganders have done allows us to take a big step in returning to normal,” MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel said in a statement. “This updated order keeps Michigan in alignment with CDC guidance that is based on the knowledge of health experts. I urge our residents to continue to be respectful of each other as we move forward.”

When the state hits 60% plus two weeks, the following restrictions will be relaxed:

  • Increased indoor sports stadium capacity indoor to 25%;
  • Increased indoor capacity at conference centers/banquet halls/funeral homes to 25% (up from a 25-person capacity);
  • Increased capacity at exercise facilities and gyms to 50%, up from 30%;
  • 11 p.m. curfew on restaurants and bars

If the state reaches 65% of Michiganders (5.2 million), plus two weeks, the state says it will lift all indoor capacity limits. Social distancing will still be required between parties. Residential social gatherings will also be relaxed.

House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Clare, welcomed the announcement.  

 “But even after today’s announcement, we are still a few steps behind other states around the country that have trusted their local residents and enjoyed better health outcomes. I encourage the governor to keep going and remove Michigan’s remaining restrictions, allowing everyone to go back to work and return to their normal lives.  

Wentworth urged Whitmer to drop restrictions more quickly.

“Specifically, moving up this new July 1 deadline would be a great place to start. There is no science that says July 1 is a safer date to stop wearing a mask than any other day; it is just a round number on the calendar. Let’s move it up sooner, embrace the strategy of trust that’s working right now and move Michigan past this pandemic.” 

But Michigan must reach 70% of Michiganders with a first vaccine to drop all restrictions, a benchmark it might not reach.

Staff Reporter

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.