Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at Steelcase in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Monday, May 24, 2021. It was the first day Steelcase is having many of their employees back in the office since the coronavirus pandemic started, thanks to the new MIOSHA rules that changed today, allowing non-essential workers to come back to offices. (Cory Morse/The Grand Rapids Press via AP)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday loosened COVID-19 workplace safety rules so fully vaccinated employees can go without a mask and disregard distancing requirements.

Industry-specific regulations were rescinded. Restaurants and bars, for instance, can reopen pool tables and dance floors and seat more than six people at a table. Cleaning standards were softened.

As expected, the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration also lifted a requirement that employers prohibit onsite work if employees’ job can be done remotely — clearing the way for a return to offices for the first time in more than 14 months.

“The law no longer requires remote work," the Democratic governor said during a news conference at furniture manufacturer Steelcase in Grand Rapids. “I want to thank the employers who are taking this seriously and working with their employees to navigate things like child care and the work-life balance and ongoing personal health concerns.”

The revised emergency regulations will expire in October and — under an agreement between Whitmer and Republican legislative leaders reached last week — will not last longer in the form of permanent rules. Employers must continue to have a written coronavirus preparedness and response plan, and conduct a daily entry self-screening protocol for all entering employees or contractors. Records must be kept for six months.

Employers must require unvaccinated workers to wear face coverings when they cannot consistently maintain 6 feet of separation. Fully vaccinated employees have to be masked in health care settings where patients may be present and when traveling on public transportation, as required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Not every office is going to come back right away ... and that's OK,” said Andy Johnston, vice president of government affairs for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. “But we look forward to seeing them come back because from Grand Rapids to Lansing, Detroit to Marquette, it's going to be wonderful to see our office buildings and downtowns reactivated and reinvigorated."

Also Monday, the state health department released an updated gatherings and mask order with changes Whitmer announced last week. Starting June 1, indoor capacity limits will be 50%. Establishments will be able to have 25 occupants regardless.

Restaurants and bars must still keep records of customers' names and contact information to assist with contact tracing.

About 58% of residents ages 16 and older have gotten at least one vaccine dose.

Michigan reported nearly 1,400 new cases and 14 deaths over a 48-hour period. The seven-day case average, 1,104, continued to drop — as it has for more than five weeks since peaking at around 7,000 in a third surge.

The total number of confirmed and probable infections was nearing 1 million. COVID-19 has been linked to more than 20,000 deaths.

About 791,000 people had recovered as of Friday.


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