GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — New penalties for refusing to wear a mask in Michigan went into effect Monday.
The strengthened stance on masks was announced by the governor last week. It makes refusing to mask up in businesses – like restaurants, stores and shops – a fineable offense of up to $500. Customers without masks must also be refused service.
Businesses with maskless employees or customers could also lose their operating licenses.
“We always think of no shirt, no shoes, no service. Now it’s got to be no shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer during a one-on-one interview with FOX17 Monday. “I’m pretty sure no one wants to move backwards and yet when you see these Covid numbers continuing to increase, it’s a very real possibility.”
Right now, six of the state’s eight regions are in Phase 4 of the MI Safe Start Plan. The remaining two regions are in Phase 5.
The governor wouldn’t say if she’s planning to move West Michigan back a phase, but did say they’re keeping a close eye on the rising numbers, especially the case-per-million metric, adding that mask wearing is the most crucial element to a safe return.
“What we do right now will impact where we are in seven weeks,” she said, “and that’s just how it is.”
The context of the order isn’t necessarily new – Michiganders have been required to wear masks for months. But the new fine gives the order more teeth, and compels businesses big and small to shoulder the burden of confronting people who aren’t wearing masks. Some say it gives them the force of the law when dealing with non-complient customers, but others argue it’s an unfair and unsafe position to put them in.
A business owner who spoke to FOX17 sees it as simply adapting.
“That was not part of their job description, to tell people what they can and can’t do; when they can and can’t come in,” said Jermale Eddie, owner of downtown Grand Rapids business Malamiah Juice Bar. “We’re shifting and transforming just like everyone else so if that’s what we need to do, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Eddie says they haven’t had any problems with customers so far, and the business has signs posted reminding customers to wear masks. Thanks to donations, they’ve also been keeping extras up front for people who forget one.
“Our product is a healthy product. It’s to help build immune systems,” said Eddie. “So if we’re taking another step, another precaution to keep people healthy, and that happens to be a face mask, we’re going to do it.”