Whitmer announces return-to-work safety guidelines, new order expanding capacity limits 

By: - May 24, 2021 1:30 pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer | Whitmer office photo

As some employers return to in-person work during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday announced updates to the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (MIOSHA) COVID-19 emergency rules

Last week, Whitmer and GOP leaders said they had struck a deal agreeing to budget talks that included a withdrawal of permanent MIOSHA rules — something for which business groups have clamored.

Whitmer announced an updated Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) COVID-19  Gatherings and  Face Masks  epidemic order, eliminating outdoor capacity limits and increasing indoor social gatherings to 50% capacity, which is set to take effect on June 1. 

“As we work to put Michigan back to work, we are moving quickly to invest in our families, small businesses, and communities to help them succeed,” said Whitmer during a press conference at Steelcase in Grand Rapids. “The reason we can take these steps is thanks to every Michigander who has stepped up and taken action to keep themselves, their families, and their communities safe. Together, we are eliminating this once-in-a-century virus, and now we are poised to jumpstart our economy and power it to new highs.” 

This comes after media reports on a photo that showed Whitmer apparently breaking the state’s rules with a gathering at an East Lansing restaurant, Landshark Bar & Grill. The governor issued an apology on Sunday.

“Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been committed to following public health protocols,” Whitmer said. “Yesterday, I went with friends to a local restaurant. As more people arrived, the tables were pushed together. Because we were all vaccinated, we didn’t stop to think about it. … In retrospect, I should have thought about it. I am human. I made a mistake, and I apologize.”


Whitmer also has been criticized by Republicans for failing to disclose she took a private plane flight in March to visit her ill father in Florida.

MIOSHA has updated guidelines in accordance with Whitmer’s “MI Vacc to Normal” plan, which the Advance reported on in April, and recent health guidelines and orders. Now that the state has reached the 55% vaccination threshold, MIOSHA has removed the requirement that employers must create a “policy prohibiting in-person work for employees to the extent that their work activities can feasibly be completed remotely.” 

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health, said that it’s critical for Michigan to continue making progress on COVID vaccinations. The state’s goal is for 70% of Michiganders 16 and older to be immunized.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is the most important tool we have to reduce the spread of the virus. The vaccines are safe and effective and vaccinated people can do so many more things safely,” she said.  “We have made great progress with our vaccination efforts, but the pandemic is not over. We are working to make sure vaccines are accessible to everyone at their doctor’s office, in their neighborhoods or even in their homes. By getting vaccinated as soon as possible Michiganders can protect themselves, their families and their communities and help end this pandemic as quickly as possible.”     

MIOSHA also has rescinded the draft permanent COVID-19 rules, and the public hearing scheduled for Wednesday is canceled. 

“As we work with the administration to get back to normal, protecting Michigan workers on the job remains the top priority for MIOSHA,” said Susan Corbin, Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity acting director. “These updated emergency rules will give workers and businesses the clarity and confidence they need to bring our economy back to full-strength.”  


MIOSHA has updated other aspects of the emergency rules to reflect the recent order from DHHS and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Those changes include: 

  • Employers may allow fully vaccinated employees to not wear face coverings and social distance provided they have a policy deemed effective to ensure non-vaccinated individuals continue to follow these requirements
  • The rules have been reformed focusing on performance, eliminating industry-specific requirements. Definitions have been updated to more clearly reflect changes in close contact and quarantining requirements for fully vaccinated employees
  • Cleaning requirements have been updated to reflect changes in CDC recommendations
  • Employers should continue to have and implement a written COVID-19 preparedness and response plan in accordance with the updated rules  

MIOSHA filed the updated emergency rules on Friday with the Michigan Office of Administrative Hearings and Rules and anticipates these changes take effect Monday.   

As the Advance reported Friday, DHHS updated its COVID-19 Gatherings and Face Masks epidemic order, eliminating outdoor capacity limits and increasing indoor social gatherings, including weddings, conferences and funerals, to 50% capacity. Under the new order, which goes into effect June 1, and continues through July 1, masks will continue to be required indoors for individuals who are not yet vaccinated.      

“We continue to move toward normalcy as more and more Michiganders get vaccinated,” said DHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel. “The updated CDC guidelines demonstrate just how safe and effective the COVID-19 vaccine truly is and how well it is working.”     

DHHS will urge Michiganders to follow CDC guidance, even where not specifically required by an epidemic order, including masking up at schools, on the bus or train and in congregate settings such as prisons and homeless shelters, Hertel said. 

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.