With Whitmer’s executive orders vacated, it’s up to local and state agencies to ensure compliance with pandemic protocols.
Following the Michigan Supreme Court’s ruling last week that Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 state lockdown measures must be overturned immediately, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard says that mask mandates will continue in the county under separate orders from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).
Bouchard adds that it’s rare in his county that enforcement ever leads to a violation.
On October 2, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that Gov. Whitmer did not have the authority to issue or renew executive orders in response to the pandemic past April 30. That ruling rescinded the mask mandates from Whitmer’s orders. Following a request from Whitmer’s office to clarify the ending date for the orders, the court ordered Oct. 12 for them to be put to an immediate halt.
The move left COVID-19 enforcement authority in the hands of local law enforcement and other state agencies.
In response, on Oct. 3, Oakland County Health Officer Leigh-Ann Stafford ordered that the county’s residents must wear masks or facial coverings when they leave their homes. That order was then rescinded, after Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Director Robert Gordon issued a similar statewide public mask order.
The MDHHS order reinstated many aspects of Gov. Whitmer’s previous emergency orders, including specific gathering limitations and masks being required at indoor and outdoor gatherings that involve people from different households.
This order is currently effective and remains in effect through Oct. 30, according to MDHHS officials. In a news conference on October 6, Gov. Whitmer said she expects Gordon to extend his orders beyond Oct. 30 as needed.
Bouchard told the JN that the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office is sticking with the plan they’ve had since the beginning of the pandemic regarding mask enforcement and COVID-19 related issues: being a source of information and assurance, not of further anxiety.
“There’s been so much confusion, and a lot of people that I’ve talked to are just too depressed to read newspapers or watch the news,” Bouchard said. “They don’t know what the order of the day or week might be, so we’ve taken the approach, and it’s worked very well I think, to be the common guiding source of information for them.”
The sheriff’s office, according to Bouchard, has gone out on every COVID-19-related call since the beginning of the pandemic. Bouchard said he made the decision to respond to such calls in case there was a need to diffuse any tension between mask-wearers and non-mask-wearers.
In addition, according to Bouchard, “over 92% of the complaints that have come in have been unfounded.”
“A complaint may come in and say, ‘There’s five people at this picnic bench in the park and they’re not social distancing,’ he said. “Turns out they’re family members.”
According to Bouchard, the remaining small percentage of real infractions are generally resolved by the police simply showing up and informing everyone of the mask rules. If a patron of a business is refusing to cooperate with the business’s mask policy, they can also be arrested for trespassing.
“That’s what we’ve been doing from the beginning and we’re going to continue to do it,” he said. “We’ve literally had no problems, and have never had to issue a ticket, and we don’t want to issue a ticket, frankly.”
The protocol for a COVID-19 related infraction would be to write a report about the incident and send it to the Oakland County Health Division (OCHD), according to Bouchard. OCHD would then decide whether the infraction was worth reporting to the state for further enforcement.
“If you pull somebody over for speeding or some traffic thing, if you can resolve it without a ticket, that’s what I’m telling you to do,” Bouchard said.
“That approach has been amazing, and people have responded. I think it’s been very much appreciated by everybody.”
Bouchard didn’t have a hard number on the statistic, but says Oakland County’s statistical mask compliance rate is one of the highest in the state.
“I think that’s a testimony to the community, of working together and trying to be respectful,” he said.