Violators of COVID-19 orders in Washtenaw County now face fines of up to $1,000
ANN ARBOR, MI – Violators of COVID-19 emergency orders issued by the Washtenaw County Public Health Department can now face hefty fines.
County commissioners voted unanimously on Wednesday night, October 21, to approve a fine plan presented by Health Commissioner Jimena Loveluck.
Fines range from $500 to $1,000 for each violation or day that a violation continues.
Violators of the two orders are subject to a $500 subpoena, Loveluck said.
Violations that pose an imminent threat to health or life can be subject to fines of up to US$1,000.
“To be clear, this is not a $500 or $1,000 fine for not wearing a mask,” County Board Chairman Jason Morgan said of D-Ann Arbor. “These relate specifically to two existing orders, namely the restrictions on gatherings and then the new restriction on University of Michigan students.”
The Board’s resolution noted that the violator control model outlined in state law allows violators to be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison.
This places an unnecessary burden on the prison system, courts and law enforcement, the resolution said, suggesting civil fines will be enough to deter dangerous behavior that helps spread disease, while still allowing the public health department enable violators to be held accountable.
The Michigan Public Health Code allows a local government agency to impose civil penalties of up to $1,000.
Commissioner Katie Scott, D-Ann Arbor, said she was excited to see something like this punishment plan.
It’s not the county’s intention to fine people, but to reduce the burden of the disease in the community, she said.
“We’ve seen some very real and worrying numbers this week about what COVID is doing in our college population,” Scott said.
Morgan had concerns about the ability of low-income people to afford the fines, but said great care is being taken to avoid being fined and people who face fines could still face an appeals process, where there is some discretion.
The county wants to protect, not punish, said Commissioner Ricky Jefferson, D-Ypsilanti Township.
“This COVID-19 is very serious,” he said. “This is the best way to prevent the serious risk of spreading COVID.”
Commissioner Sue Shink, D-Northfield Township, asked Loveluck to confirm that UM students will not be fined if they engage in political activity, such as voting, registering to vote, or campaigning.
“There is absolutely no intention of violating anyone’s constitutional rights with these orders,” Loveluck said. “And so the right to protest, to cast your vote and other types of electoral activities are fully permitted.”
Morgan suggested that the district should release more information to really make this clear to students.
“There are many students who want to stick to it but are still nervous,” he said.
Loveluck said health officials will discuss this and possible adjustments to the order on Thursday.
UM students are still allowed to go door-to-door to work on political campaigns and be election observers, Scott said, adding that everyone should remain safe.
“Please continue to wear a mask when out and about,” she said. “If you wear a mask and I wear a mask, we’re going to be so much more protected than usual.”
To those who tell her they’re fine and don’t have to wear a mask, she said, “They don’t know where I’ve been and a lot of times I’ve been in the ICU with someone who has COVID.” Scott is a registered nurse in Michigan Medicine.
There’s still a lot unknown about the long-term health effects of contracting the virus, Scott said.
“So what we’re doing here tonight with this resolution and through the health department is protecting our community,” she said.
The Department of Health has been responding to reported violations under the governor’s orders at the time since the pandemic began, Loveluck said.
“We have a team in the health department that regularly responds to and follows up on complaints and reports, whether it’s a business or a restaurant or whatever,” she said. “So we use the same model to follow up on any complaints or reports of violations that we may receive related to the local orders. Additionally, we work very closely with the University of Michigan and the City of Ann Arbor to ensure we share information.”
The health department isn’t a 24/7 operation, so it won’t be on site for every violation, she said, but it has up to 90 days after a violation to thoroughly investigate and determine if a subpoena is warranted.
“And hopefully we don’t have to do that many subpoenas at all,” Loveluck said.
Washtenaw County’s fines are based on what Ingham County is doing, Loveluck said, noting that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is also working on fines for statewide orders.
“So we want to make sure we align with that effort as well,” she said.
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