(Courtesy photo) Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Sunday, in conjunction with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, announced a new set of guidelines regarding COVID-19 as the virus surges around the Thumb, state and nation.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s latest executive order, signed Friday, requires people to wear a face covering whenever they are in an indoor public space. 

Executive Order 2020-147, which amends and replaces the governor’s previous Executive Order 2020-114, also requires the use of face coverings in crowded outdoor spaces. Most significantly, the order requires any business that is open to the public to refuse entry or service to people who refuse to wear a face covering, with limited exceptions. Governors in the states of Kansas, Maine, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Washington have imposed similar requirements on businesses. 

Whitmer signed this executive order in response to rising COVID-19 cases in Michigan and across the country. 

“The heroes on the front lines of this crisis have gone hours without taking their masks off every day – doctors, nurses, childcare workers, grocery store workers. We owe it to them to wear our masks when we’re on a trip to the grocery store or pharmacy,” Whitmer said in a press release. “Masks can reduce the chance of spreading COVID-19 by about 70 percent. 

By wearing masks, we can save lives and protect our family, friends, and neighbors from the spread of COVID-19. And by wearing masks now, we can put our state in a stronger position so our kids can return to school safely in the fall. For the sake of your loved ones, let’s all mask up, Michigan.” 

Over the past week, every region in Michigan has seen an uptick in new cases. Daily case counts now exceed 20 cases per million in the Grand Rapids, Detroit and Lansing regions. Research confirms that a big part of the reason is spotty compliance with the governor’s requirement, issued in prior orders, that individuals wear face coverings in public spaces.  

While Tuscola County added just five additional cases in the past week, rising to a total of 232 confirmed cases and 26 deaths. Huron County added three cases last week and now has 60 confirmed cases. 

Ann Hepfer, health officer for the Tuscola County Health Department, said the new positive cases are not related to any associated outbreaks and are considered community-acquired infections.

“I have received numerous calls from residents concerned about the fact that many people are not wearing masks,” Hepfer said in a press release. “Some of these non-mask wearers are physicians, waitresses, hardware stores, bartenders, nurses and the general public. I will be honest, there is not much I can do to enforce the mask wearing. What I can say is that if you are being seen by a health care provider who does not respect your health enough to wear a mask, then you have every right in the world to seek care elsewhere. The same applies to where you eat and shop. If you don’t like the practices you are seeing, then go where you will be safe, and where people care and respect you. We all have choices to make, make the right one for yourself and your loved ones.”

A study on different regions in Germany suggests mandatory mask ordinances decreased the daily growth rate of COVID-19 infections by 40 percent. Modeling from the University of Washington similarly indicates that more than 40,000 lives would be spared nationwide if 95 percent of the population wore a mask while in public. Furthermore, a study conducted by Goldman Sachs concluded that a federal mask mandate could save the U.S. economy from taking a 5 percent hit to the gross domestic product. 

“Michigan’s fight against COVID-19 is nowhere near over, which is why it’s so important that we all do our part and wear masks when we’re out in public,” said chief medical executive and Department of Health and Human Service chief deputy for health Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. Wearing  a mask or face covering can significantly decrease the chance of spreading COVID-19 and save lives. It’s important that all Michiganders wear masks properly – not down around the neck, not only over the mouth, but correctly over the mouth and nose. Please everyone stay patient, and remain vigilant.” 

Under the governor’s order, businesses that are open to the public must refuse entry and service to individuals who fail to comply, and must post signs at all entrances instructing customers of their legal obligation to wear a face covering while inside. Those who are exempt from wearing a mask in Michigan businesses include people younger than 5 years old, those who cannot medically tolerate a face covering, and those who are eating or drinking while seated at a food service establishment.  

The executive order takes effect Monday. A willful violation of the order is a misdemeanor subject to a $500 criminal penalty, but no term of confinement may be imposed on individuals who violate the mask requirement. No individual is subject to penalty under the order for removing a mask while engaging in religious worship at a house of religious worship, although consistent with guidance from the CDC, congregants are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings during religious services. 

Hepfer, while urging mask use, hand-washing and social distancing, expects to see a surge in new COVID-19 cases.

“Confirmed cases across the state are beginning to increase, but hospitals are still able to manage the number of cases they are receiving,” she said. “We expect to see surges throughout the state over the next two weeks. This would follow the trends we have seen across the U.S. We need our numbers to remain flattened if we want our children to be able to return to school safely. Your school leaders are working tirelessly in preparation for your children to return this fall. Public health is working with them and answering questions and providing guidance.”

Testing for COVID-19 remains available from 8-10 a.m. Thursdays in the health department parking lot, 1309 Cleaver Road. The Huron County Health Department is offering testing from 10 a.m. to noon Monday, Wednesday and Fridays in the Bay Great Lakes Health Care Center parking lot, 876 N. Van Dyke  in Bad Axe.

Mark Haney is a staff writer for The Advertiser. He can be reached at haney@tcadvertiser.com.