Michigan Bans 'All Public and Private Gatherings,' Will Still Allow Lottery Sales

The governor's new stay-at-home order is arbitrary and far too strict.


Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has issued an updated stay-at-home order—arguably the most constraining in the nation.

"As governor, I have to use every lever at my disposal to protect people," the Democrat said at a press conference Monday afternoon. "It weighs heavily, and I know that there [are] costs associated." 

Some of the levers at Whitmer's disposal appear to be ineffective at best and draconian at worst. Her directive forbids the in-store sale of paint, outdoor goods, and other allegedly nonessential items at large retailers.* (Home improvement stores can remain open, but they have to tape off those sections from customers.) It shuts down lawncare services. It bans travel between Michigan residences. It prohibits "all public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring among persons not part of a single household."

The order carves out a few exceptions, including for critical infrastructure workers and for those who have to take care of a relative.

Critics honed in on the lopsided nature of the order, which blocks the sale of all sorts of goods yet somehow still allows for the purchase of lottery tickets. One possible explanation: A large chunk of lottery proceeds go to K-12 education in the state.

"You can't go visit your friends. You can't buy seeds…but you can sneak out and buy lottery tickets," 88-year-old Hal Hughes told The Detroit Free Press. "I don't understand it, unless it's hypocritical greed."

The directive is currently in place until April 30; violating it constitutes a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to a $1,000 civil fine. Criminal penalties are also on the table, should prosecutors choose to pursue that

Michigan has not been lax on enforcement. Police stopped landscaper Brandon Hawley for carrying on with his business, although he lives in the northern city of Alpena, which confirmed its first COVID-19 case on Saturday. The majority of Michigan's cases are in the southeastern portion of the state.

Detractors also honed in on the state's travel restrictions. Michigan residents cannot go to their northern getaway cottages, but residents of other states who own such properties in Michigan will still be allowed to visit them if their home states' orders don't prevent them from doing so. 

As of today, Michigan has 25,635 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 1,602 fatalities.

"We have the third most cases of any state," State Rep. Jim Lower (R–Greenville) told the Detroit Metro Times. "Blocking off sections of stores is basically nonsense and will not help reduce the spread of the virus."

Though Whitmer's updated order is perhaps the most inhibitory in the country, other states and localities have faced similar backlash as they seek to clamp down on any type of social contact. Police in Greenville, Mississippi, on Thursday issued citations to churchgoers attending a service at King James Bible Baptist Church, notwithstanding the fact that the congregation listened from their own respective vehicles. They broke the town's curfew, however, and as punishment, law enforcement doled out $500 tickets—a strange message to send in a clobbered economy, where many have lost their jobs.

*CORRECTION: The original version of this piece did not make clear that the Michigan order's provisions on selling nonessential items apply only to large retailers.