CORUNNA — Sheriff Brian BeGole says even though his deputies don’t plan to take complaints about people not wearing masks at businesses, that doesn’t give mask opponents the right to ignore requirements or cause problems.
“We encourage people to wear masks,” BeGole said Monday. “Be courteous and respectful. A business owner has the right to say wear a mask or leave.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Friday signed an executive order requiring people to wear masks inside every business, and even outside if it’s not possible to remain more than 6 feet away from other people. Stores also are required to post signs stating people may not enter without wearing masks, unless they have a medical condition preventing mask use.
There also are exceptions for those younger than 5, for food consumption and exercising.
Businesses could have their licenses suspended if they don’t follow the order.
“We’re not actually going to be enforcing the order by writing tickets,” BeGole said.
A number of police departments and sheriffs across Michigan have taken similar stances in regard to the mask order, including departments in Saginaw, Huron, Gratiot, Arenac, Van Buren, Macomb and Alpena counties, among others. Most have cited lack of manpower and the complexity of the order.
BeGole reiterated business owners have the right to set policies, including on mask use.
“If you choose not to follow the business’ policy, they have the right to refuse service,” BeGole said. “If they ask you to leave, you should do so. If you don’t you could commit the crime of trespassing. If you don’t leave, we will respond and you may face charges.”
Signs at area businesses began going up shortly after the order. Some, such as Meijer, have large signs in front of doors warning people to wear masks. Other businesses have suggested they won’t ask people not wearing masks about their reasons and will assume the people have a medical reason.
Some signs posted claim dubious constitutional or statutory reasons for failing to enforce the order.
Earlier this year, BeGole issued a statement, as did some other Michigan sheriffs, saying he wouldn’t be spending resources to enforce a number of Whitmer orders related to the pandemic.
BeGole said his issues with Whitmer’s ongoing orders — in addition to manpower — are the lack of legislative action and the litigation regarding the orders. The litigation, he said, leaves his department in legal limbo because any charges they might file could lead to liabilities down the road.
“There could be lawsuits and I’m not willing to put my department in that position,” he said.
BeGole said people who have complaints about businesses not following the order should direct their concerns to state officials by calling the Michigan Occupational and Safety and Health Administration at (855) 723-3219 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Some officials also are directing people to call the Michigan Attorney General’s Office or Whitmer’s office with complaints.