Can it become a crime to stand too close to someone either in public or while indoors? As the coronavirus pandemic slams the state, mayors across Michigan are putting that theory to the test.
After the city of Detroit became a hotspot for COVID-19, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a statewide Stay At Home order on March 24. Originally slated to end on April 14, the order has since been extended to May 28. The governor urged residents to remain safe by staying at home and avoiding contact with others while practicing social distancing when outside their homes. There have been more than 45,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Michigan, and more than 4,000 deaths.
Since then, several of Michigan’s mayors have warned that if social distancing measures are not taken seriously or followed, the health crisis could get worse. Those mayors have announced their intentions to more vigorously enforce Whitmer’s Stay At Home order.
With Detroit being among the hardest-hit cities in the country, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan was one of the earliest to announce plans to step up enforcement of social distancing rules to help slow the spread of the pandemic.
Duggan said the city would start issuing misdemeanor citations punishable by $1,000 fines and six months in jail for those who ignore social distancing practices. The mayor said he was particularly concerned about how devastatingly the pandemic had struck the city’s police department, with COVID-19 infecting Chief James Craig, sending many officers into quarantine, and claiming the lives of two officers.
As the mayor noted:
“We are going to have to deal far more strictly on enforcing the governor's order on social distancing … We don’t want to be fining anybody, but we can’t be having these gatherings, we can’t be having folks on the street.”
Enforcement measures that have been taken include increased patrols, plane flyovers, and heightened video surveillance to prevent crowds from gathering. Duggan announced the crackdown one day after the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services officially gave local police departments the ability to fine violators or impose criminal penalties for breaking social distancing rules. Detroit police also began monitoring security cameras outside convenience stores for signs of crowds.
Detroit wasn’t acting alone. In Warren, Michigan's third-largest city, Mayor Jim Fouts announced that the city’s police would start cracking down on violations of Whitmer's executive order. That included the mandate to maintain social distancing at all times and to wear masks in stores.
Fouts said he made this decision after getting a flood of emails and text messages from citizens worried about local residents and businesses not obeying social distancing orders or failing to wear masks.
The mayor instructed the Warren Police Department to begin conducting patrols in retail areas, with officers having the ability to issue warnings or citations for failing to comply. As the mayor noted:
"I understand that this may pose a hardship on some businesses, but such a hardship is insignificant when compared to the threat posed to our community, particularly our senior citizens and those with pre-existing conditions, by COVID-19 … Whether people like it or not, they have to follow the governor's executive orders, and they have to maintain social distancing and wear masks."
At the same time, the suburban community of Bloomfield Township began sending drones over golf courses and playgrounds to watch for any large gatherings.
The governor’s Stay At Home order extends through May 28, although Whitmer has allowed certain industries to reopen if workers employ safety measures. Those industries include construction, manufacturing, real estate, and most outdoor work.
But even after the Stay At Home order gets lifted, Michigan’s residents are expected to still follow social distancing rules when they’re out in public, and the state will have specialized surveillance cameras in some shopping centers to monitor the distance between customers in checkout lines.
The governor’s office has called this a new norm, at least until it's clear that COVID-19 is no longer considered a serious public health threat or that a vaccine has been developed and is readily available. And that means making sure healthy people don’t contract the virus when they start heading out in public or going shopping.
At this crucial time, the rights and safety of all Michigan’s residents are important to us. If you’ve suffered an injury in an accident that was due to the negligence of others, contact the attorneys at the Michigan Legal Center. We also specialize in protecting our clients from all manner of police brutality and misconduct. With more than 20 years of experience and more than $200 million worth of legal cases, we’re here to defend the residents of Michigan.
The attorneys at the Michigan Legal Center are happy to answer any questions you may have and offer advice on what you need to do to receive compensation after experiencing an injury. Call 1-800-961-8447 for your free consultation.