Published in Economic Development
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a press conference on Friday, Jan. 22 Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a press conference on Friday, Jan. 22 COURTESY PHOTO

State to allow limited indoor dining on Feb. 1 as public health metrics ‘looking promising’

BY Friday, January 22, 2021 10:54am

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Friday that restaurants and bars can resume indoor service on Feb. 1 with a 25 percent capacity limit and 10 p.m. curfew.

State officials moved to close indoor dining, as well as various other entertainment and hospitality facilities, in mid-November as the state saw spikes in COVID-19 case rates, test positivity and hospitalizations.

Each of those metrics have been trending downward in recent weeks, including seven-day average case rates now at a fraction of what they were on Nov. 15 — 224.6 cases per million statewide compared to 740 cases per million two months ago.

“Michigan’s numbers are looking promising,” Whitmer said during a Friday morning press conference, adding that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) two-month pause “has worked.”

DHHS formally issued the new pandemic order today that restricts indoor dining at bars and restaurants to 25 percent capacity, with up to 100 people, starting Feb. 1. The order is in place until Feb. 21. Tables must be six feet apart with no more than six people per table, and outdoor tents with four sides are permitted under the same rules. The order also requires the collection of diners’ contact information for contact tracing purposes.

Night clubs will remain closed under the order, as are workplaces if the work can be done at home. The order also allows concessions to reopen at movie theaters, casinos and stadiums.

“Today’s announcement is possible because of our progress over the last two months,” DHHS Director Robert Gordon said in a statement. “Even so, the science is clear that unmasked, indoor activities like dining and drinking are still a source of high risk around COVID-19. The safest course remains to support your favorite restaurant with carryout, delivery or outdoor dining.”

State officials also announced a voluntary MI COVID-19 Safer Dining program that allows bars and restaurants to become certified for having their ventilation systems inspected by the state. Whitmer has also proposed $10 million in funding to “reimburse restaurants that go through the program to upgrade their ventilation systems,” she said Friday.

While the public health metrics are improving, statewide industry trade and business groups say the state’s order doesn’t go far enough to aid the battered industry by maintaining a 25 percent capacity restriction.

“Reopening at 25 percent capacity is a start, but it’s not what we were hoping for or what our industry needs right now,” Michigan Licensed Beverage Association Executive Director Scott Ellis said in a statement. “Many establishments have been closed because carry-out sales weren’t enough to keep them open. We’re afraid a strict capacity limit like this will continue to keep those places closed.”

Whitmer said the new restrictions and timeline were based on weighing input from restaurant groups as well as health care professionals.

The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association (MRLA) called the order “good, if overdue news,” and said the state should prioritize hospitality workers in its vaccination strategy.

“It is now time for this administration to move aggressively towards a more comprehensive reintegration strategy, which includes prioritizing vaccination for the broader hospitality industry and establishing clear metrics for phased reopening to 100 percent capacity of indoor dining,” MRLA President and CEO Justin Winslow said in a statement.

Read 5393 times Last modified on Friday, 22 January 2021 11:03