Michigan loosens COVID-19 workplace mask, distancing rules

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday loosened COVID-19 workplace safety rules so fully vaccinated employees can go without a mask and disregard distancing requirements.

Industry-specific regulations were rescinded. Restaurants and bars, for instance, can reopen pool tables and dance floors. Cleaning standards were softened.

As expected, the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration also lifted a requirement that employers prohibit onsite work if employees’ job can be done remotely — clearing the way for a return to offices for the first time in more than 14 months.

“The law no longer requires remote work,” the Democratic governor said during a news conference at furniture manufacturer Steelcase in Grand Rapids. “I want to thank the employers who are taking this seriously and working with their employees to navigate things like child care and the work-life balance and ongoing personal health concerns.”

The revised emergency regulations will expire in October and — under an agreement between Whitmer and Republican legislative leaders reached last week — will not last longer in the form of permanent rules. Employers must continue to have a written coronavirus preparedness and response plan, and conduct a daily entry self-screening protocol for all entering employees or contractors. Records must be kept for six months.

Employers must require unvaccinated workers to wear face coverings when they cannot consistently maintain 6 feet of separation.

“Not every office is going to come back right away … and that’s OK,” said Andy Johnston, vice president of government affairs for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. “But we look forward to seeing them come back because from Grand Rapids to Lansing, Detroit to Marquette, it’s going to be wonderful to see our office buildings and downtowns reactivated and reinvigorated.”

Also Monday, the state health department released a revised gatherings and mask order with changes Whitmer announced last week. Starting June 1, indoor capacity limits will be 50%. Smaller establishments will be able to have up to 25 occupants regardless.

Restaurants and bars must still keep records of customers’ names and contact information to assist with contact tracing.

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