Confusion Reigns about What’s Legal Where with Covid, as Council Renews Emergency Orders

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

A "wear your mask" stencil on the Grove St. sidewalk downtown. That part of Grove St. is in a special mask-mandatory district of East Lansing.

Ingham County is seeing a rise in Covid-19 cases unrelated to MSU and also in hospitalizations, according to Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail.

This comes at a time when confusion reigns regarding public health orders, following a Michigan Supreme Court ruling that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer did not have the authority to issue executive orders after Apr. 30.

Since Sunday – when Vail  issued four emergency orders to ensure some public health measures remained in place in Ingham County while statewide regulations were clarified – ELi’s lead data analyst Nathan Andrus has been working to make the various orders that affect East Lansing accessible and understandable to average humans.

We asked Nathan to take on this special analysis and communications work because people in East Lansing must abide by so many different sets of orders – including from two counties, the City of East Lansing, and MSU – depending on where they are at any given moment in the city.

To make things especially confusing, certain areas of the City are subject to special sets rules, such as mandatory masking in the DDA District and restrictions on gathering sizes in student-heavy parts of town.

Nathan has now created a map that shows which rules are in play where. He also has produced a series of relatively simple checklists for residents, people visiting, and business owners.

Check it all out at this special page.

City Attorney and Council see Covid-19 as something requiring legal interventions

At City Council this week, new City Attorney Mike Homier wanted to make a public health point as much as a legal point, saying, “The Supreme court didn’t eradicate Covid. It’s still out there. So you need to be careful about it.”

He went on to explain that the Michigan Supreme Court’s ruling was part of a federal case which is still in play. The governor’s office has asked for the state court to clarify if the executive orders are valid through Oct. 30.

In the meantime, Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has issued some directives restricting capacity for social gatherings and indoor and outdoor events.

Homier noted that the confusion over regulatory powers extends to the question of whether public meetings like Council’s – regulated under Michigan’s Open Meetings Act – could still occur online, since permission to meet virtually was granted in a now-invalidated executive order from the governor.

Council did meet online this week, and Homier stated it was prudent, explaining that holding a public, in-person meeting could violate guidelines on event size from the Ingham County Health Department.

At last night’s meeting, Council unanimously voted to extend the mask mandate for the DDA District. Mayor Aaron Stephens stated that he did not take extending the local state of emergency and mask order lightly, and all of Council backed his sentiments.

Mayor Pro Temp Jessy Gregg expressed frustration that rescinding orders on the state level might “embolden” a few who did not take masking seriously. Said Gregg, “Something so mild in terms of personal inconvenience has become a point of division being used politically is extremely disheartening to me.”

Council members Ron Bacon and Dana Watson also pointed to the health and safety of the community.

Bacon referred to protecting the public as “a hill I’m willing to die on.”

Similarly, Watson stated that keeping people masked in the DDA District will help passersby feel safer as they venture downtown.

Numbers on the rise

Earlier Tuesday, Vail reported that East Lansing had 44 cases of Covid-19 unrelated to MSU in August and 98 in September.

These numbers are still small in comparison to the 1,424 cases recorded among MSU students, faculty, and staff since August 31. But it does mean that roughly 7 percent of September’s cases in East Lansing occurred in people not affiliated with the university. That indicates that community spread is occurring in East Lansing

As ELi reported earlier this week, hospitalizations are also on the rise.

As of Oct. 2, five people in Ingham County were hospitalized with Covid-19, including one person in the intensive care unit (ICU). By Tuesday, Oct. 6, nine Ingham residents were in the hospital with Covid-19, including three in the ICU.

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