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UPDATE: State says local authorities must enforce MDHHS’ order

Some Upper Michigan businesses and organizations have posted to social media about remaining open, despite the order which closed bars and restaurants for dine-in services.
 (MGN Image with WLUC Edits in Canva)
(MGN Image with WLUC Edits in Canva) (WLUC)
Published: Nov. 20, 2020 at 1:53 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 20, 2020 at 3:19 PM EST
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UPPER PENINSULA, Mich. (WLUC) - When it comes to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ emergency order that took effect Wednesday, it’s up to local police departments and health departments to investigate.

Here is what is is open and closed during this three-week “pause”:

MDHHS' order Pause to Save Lives graphic.
MDHHS' order Pause to Save Lives graphic.(MDHHS)

According to Ryan Jarvi, the Press Secretary for Attorney General Dana Nessel, they need the public to notify authorities when the order is being defied, and local law enforcement to make sure businesses are following the MDHHS’ order.

“We are relying on local law enforcement first and foremost to inform, educate and encourage compliance. Local authorities are best positioned to enforce the MDHHS orders and respond to reports of violations,” Jarvi said. “We trust those professionals who work and live in our communities throughout the state to use their authority and discretion in responding to reports of violations.”

Some Upper Michigan businesses and organizations have posted to social media about remaining open, despite the order which closed bars and restaurants for dine-in services.

In reaching out to local health departments about these posts, the health officers have told TV6 they are aware of the posts and are addressing them, though were not specific as to what repercussions the businesses may face for defying the MDHHS’ order.

In response to a TV6 request about all of this, the MDHHS had the following to say:

“The Michigan Public Health Code, as passed by the Legislature, gives the department director authority to take actions via emergency order to protect the public health during an epidemic, which includes prohibiting the gathering of people and other procedures during an epidemic to insure continuation of essential public health services and enforcement of health laws.

“COVID-19 spreads in indoor settings where individuals socialize without masks. There are currently 54 outbreaks associated with bars and restaurants in Michigan. Because about 50 to 60 percent of all COVID-19 cases cannot be tied to a known source of infection, and because tying cases to places where individuals may spend only an hour is difficult, there is an unknown number of further outbreaks not counted above. Targeted and temporary closures that include restaurants have been part of successful strategies for containing COVID surges in Western Europe. Other states are now following this approach, and it is supported by leading public health experts nationwide. The department hopes that residents will do the right thing and follow these orders to save lives and protect their family, friends and community from further spread of COVID-19.

“Just [Friday], a federal court denied issuing a temporary restraining order sought by the restaurant association against the department’s order.”

In a release sent out Sunday, Nov. 15 regarding the order, MDHHS’ Director Robert Gordon said, “Indoor gatherings are the greatest source of spread, and sharply limiting them is our focus. The order is targeted and temporary, but a terrible loss of life will be forever unless we act. By coming together today, we can save thousands of lives.”

Gordon, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and MDHHS’ Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said the COVID-19 data is trending in the wrong direction, with spikes in cases, deaths and hospitalizations seen over the last several weeks. This is why, they say, putting out the MDHHS’ order was needed.

The MDHHS has the authority to issue these orders under Michigan Public Health Codes, which are included in laws passed by the Michigan legislature. They can use MCL 333.2221 to “prevent disease, prolong life, and promote public health,” and gives the Department “general supervision of the interests of health and life of people of this state.” MDHHS may also “[e]xercise authority and promulgate rules to safeguard properly the public health; to prevent the spread of diseases and the existence of sources of contamination; and to implement and carry out the powers and duties vested by law in the department” under MCL 333.2226(d).

Questions about the MDHHS order may be directed to the COVID-19 Hotline at 888-535-6136 or by sending an email to the state’s COVID-19 email address.

For continuing coronavirus coverage from TV6 & FOX UP, visit uppermichiganssource.com/coronavirus.

TV6 will update this story if more information is made available.

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