Fully vaccinated workers don’t need masks under new MIOSHA rules

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Employers in Michigan no longer have to ask employees who can work from home to do so.

The work-from-home mandate was lifted Monday as the first step in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Vacc to Normal” plan to loosen coronavirus restrictions. However, each company is allowed to determine if and when it wants staff to return to the workplace.

“Thanks to vaccines, life is starting to get back to normal now,” Whitmer said during a Monday morning press conference at Steelcase’s headquarters in Grand Rapids. “Our recovery is continuing to pick up steam.”

Whitmer listed several changes in Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines as more people go back to work. Effective Monday, under the MIOSHA rules, fully vaccinated employees do not have to wear masks or social distance in the workplace. Cleaning and sanitation requirements have been softened.

“We believe, at Steelcase, we are better when we are together,” Steelcase CEO Jim Keane said. “Our people have been remarkably resilient over the last 15 months.”

Keane joined Gov. Whitmer, announcing Steelcase employees will have the option to work in person or continue working remotely.

State leaders said industry-specific requirements are also eliminated, which means bars and restaurants can reopen common areas like pool tables and dance floors.

Businesses must still have a COVID-19 response plan in place. Daily self-screening upon workers’ entry into the workplace is also still required.

Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Susan Corbin speaks at a press conference at Steelcase as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer looks on. (May 24, 2021)

“The new rules effective today are clear and consistent and bring regulatory certainty for employers while reflecting updated public health guidance,” Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Susan Corbin said at the governor’s press conference.

But, she added, “the MIOSHA rules are minimum standards.”

“Some employers may want to keep mask rules in place a little bit longer to protect their employees or their customers, and that’s OK,” Corbin continued. “And we know that many employees plan to keep remote work in place a little bit longer, and that’s OK, too.”

In Ada, Amway is allowing its employees to decide whether they want to punch the clock from home, at work or both. The campus will officially reopen for in-person work June 1.

“Sixty percent of our employees say they want to continue that flexibility, about 30% say they want to be in the office all the time, then 10% say they want to work remote full time,” Mike Horrigan, vice president of human resources for Corporate North and Latin American for Amway, said.

A spokesperson for Meijer told News 8 the West Michigan-based grocery giant’s leadership is still reviewing return-to-work policies. Spectrum Health leaders said they are doing the same. For now, masks are required for all hospital workers, despite their vaccination status.

MIOSHA’s emergency rules are currently set to expire Oct. 14, but the state notes it may choose to rescind them earlier than that. The agency is also discontinuing the process to make its COVID-19 guidance permanent. That was part of an agreement between Whitmer and the Republicans who lead the state Legislature to come to the table about lawmakers’ role in pandemic response moving forward and this year’s budget process.

With the state’s key virus metrics — the case rate, test positivity rate, hospitalization census and death rate — continuing to show sustained improvements and the vaccination percentage on a steady, if slow, rise, Whitmer has laid out a new plan for the lifting of state restrictions. On June 1, capacity limits will rise for indoor establishments and on July 1, they’ll be lifted entirely. The broad mask mandate will also be lifted July 1.

So with some people able to ditch the mask and get together and others technically not allowed to do the same, will it lead to misunderstanding?

“I think that’s something that we’ve worked to try to make sure that we’re very clear,” Whitmer said. “You know, this is a month. — it’s from June 1 to July 1 — that we are transitioning.”

Later, she was asked what would be different between June 1 and July 1 given that the number of people getting vaccinated has dropped off considerably.

“If you are unvaccinated, being inside is riskier and that’s why we will continue to have a masking rule for the next month. As we reengage, I’ve talked about a dial not a switch; we don’t want to drop everything at once,” she replied.

While the governor discussed a number of details about pandemic rules, when the subject turned to ongoing questions about her travels using a private plane paid for by a special transition fund, she had less to say. She was asked if the same nonprofit that paid for her Florida trip paid for her travel to go to President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

“We have shared the information, we have complied by the law, we have complied by ethics rules and there’s not anything more to add,” Whitmer said.

The governor and her office continue to avoid questions about her travel, though she contends it has all been handled properly.

She also addressed a picture that surfaced over the weekend that showed her and a group at a Lansing restaurant violating a COVID-19 mitigation rule that allows only six people at a table. Whitmer apologized, calling it an honest mistake.

After her press conference at Steelcase, Whitmer headed to Long Road Distillers in Grand Rapids to sign four bills regarding the distribution and taxation of ready-to-drink cocktails into law. Proponents of the bills say they will allow craft breweries to compete with national companies.

—News 8 political reporter Rick Albin and reporter Donovan Long contributed to this article.

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