My husband and I got our second dose of the COVID vaccine last week, and it’s given us peace of mind and confidence we’ll be able to return fully to our pre-pandemic lives.
We’re joined by more than 45% of Michiganians in getting at least one dose of the vaccine
I think many people have assumed once enough of us are vaccinated, it wouldn’t be long before the state backed down from its heavy-handed orders, and we could ditch masks and other measures we’ve been instructed to follow.
While residents may be eager to move on from COVID and its accompanying state-mandated restrictions, Michigan regulators are just settling in. They have crafted permanent rules that could live on long past the threat of the virus, if approved.
That’s right — permanent.
Unelected bureaucrats with the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration are concerned that temporary emergency workplace rules, which just got extended another six months through October, will be needed beyond that date so they are busily working to keep the regulations in perpetuity.
MIOSHA officials claim the permanent rules are needed since, “Michigan’s experience with COVID-19 demonstrates that the disease can spread rapidly without protective measures and standards in place.”
Emergency rules can only be in effect for one year, meaning that MIOSHA has to now go through the proper rule-making process to extend its dictates.
These mandates are wide-reaching, and would impact pretty much everyone, whether going to a restaurant or a ball game. Businesses would have to allow remote work when possible; conduct health screenings of employees; quarantine employees who’ve been exposed to COVID; require masks of customers and staff; and ensure detailed cleaning and social distancing policies.
The rules would live on, even once current “epidemic orders” from the state Health Department go away.
This makes Michigan one of only a few states that are contemplating more permanent extensions of emergency COVID regulations. Oregon is also considering similar guidelines, and MIOSHA officials claim Virginia has moved forward with such rules.
“No other state has its thumb on decisions that should be made in the workplace,” says Wendy Block, vice president of business advocacy and member engagement at the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. The chamber has also pushed back against the extension of the temporary rules.
Michigan is again finding itself an outlier in stringent COVID policies that have not proven successful in preventing the last two major waves of the virus.
Michael Van Beek, director of research for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, questions why such long-term rules are needed for what should be a temporary emergency.
The rules don’t have a built-in expiration date, so even once other health orders are rescinded, these regulators would only need to “examine” whether to continue the rules.
And many of the mandates are not well-defined, which means employers would have to muddle through and do their best to comply — or face fines.
“It’s difficult for employers to know if they are in compliance or not,” says Van Beek. “They could be at risk of violating these rules at any time.”
Most concerning for businesses — especially retail businesses and restaurants — is that these rules would turn them into the mask police. Once the statewide individual mask mandate is lifted, the impetus would be on employers to ensure their customers are complying.
“This creates even more confusion and uncertainty,” says Van Beek.
MIOSHA does have to hold public hearings as part of the rule-making process, and concerned business owners and residents should make their voices heard. The first hearing is set for May 26.
The Republican-controlled Legislature could delay the implementation of the rules, but other than that, it doesn’t have much control over the process. Lawmakers could pass a bill overturning new rules, but then Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would have to sign it. And the governor and lawmakers haven’t found much room for agreement when it comes to COVID.
We’re all looking forward to leaving the pandemic behind. As many states like Texas and Florida are returning to normal, this effort to make masks and other COVID rules permanent is the wrong direction for Michigan.
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