Michigan’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths from the illness rank fourth and third in the country respectively. While some parts of the state, including the UP, maintain smaller numbers of cases, the larger cities on the east side of the state have been mini epicenters for the virus.
Citing these figures, on Thursday, April 9th, Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer rescinded her existing order and passed Executive Order No. 2020-42 “Temporary requirement to suspend activities that are not necessary to sustain or protect life.”
This new order drastically increased the scope of the provisions mandating that people must stay home unless they are helping a relative, essential infrastructure workers, performing errands necessary to maintain life, and participating in outdoor recreation.
The last provision relating to permitted outdoor recreation has stirred up controversy in the Michigan outdoor sporting community. The previous Executive Order allowed all boating as long as social distancing was maintained:
“Boating falls within the outdoor activities permitted under the order. Any outdoor activity, including boating, must be done in a manner consistent with social distancing, and individuals should use only their own equipment to prevent the transmission of the virus through the touching of shared surfaces. Additionally, in accordance with section 2 of the order, persons not part of a single household may not boat together.”
The new Executive Order unveiled last Thursday appeared to still allow the same outdoor activities at the first. Referencing the permitted activities it said: “To engage in outdoor physical activity, consistent with remaining at least six feet from people from outside the individual’s household. Outdoor physical activity includes walking, hiking, running, cycling, kayaking, canoeing, or other similar physical activity, as well as any comparable activity for those with limited mobility.”
It can certainly be argued that operating a motorboat, while maintaining social distance, is a “comparable activity” for those with limited mobility and fishing from a small powered boat seems to qualify as “similar physical activity.”
It became apparent, soon after, when an answer was released to a ‘FAQ’ regarding the order, that the state was prohibiting any powered boating:
“Physical outdoor activity like kayaking, canoeing, and sailing is permitted under the order, but using a motorboat, a jet ski, or other similar watercraft is not.”
Controversy has ensued, not least of which because of the vague wording of the original order which did not reference motorized boating and the subsequent interpretation of the bill via the frequently asked question section on the state’s website.
Some residents feel that allowing sailing (a traditionally elitist activity) caters to the well to do while driving a bass boat out to fish (a traditionally more blue-collar activity) is prohibited.
Opponents of the interpretation argue that Social distancing may be maintained while operating a motorboat. Furthermore, they point out that getting gas to fill up a boat is no different than gassing up your car to drive to a state park out of town to hike for the day (which is permitted according to the DNR).
The citizens of Michigan have all been making sacrifices for the sake of the State and Nation. 1 in 10 Michiganders have filed unemployment claims. The State and many of our jobs have essentially been closed since mid-March. Perhaps we should let the stressed-out citizenry enjoy the upcoming fishing season from the isolation of their motorized watercraft with members of their household only.
After all, with all the sacrifices we are making right now, it may not be prudent to further stress the citizenry with seemingly arbitrary and capricious rules.