The Whitmer administration on Tuesday announced a series of loosened COVID-19 restrictions statewide, including allowing restaurants and bars to double their indoor capacity from 25 percent to 50 percent and allowing visitations at long-term care facilities.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also announced that the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity would convene a work group of business and labor advocates to advise on the reopening of office spaces.
“Due to the trends we’re seeing, we’re taking a step forward — but a cautious one,” Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel said during a press conference.
Hertel signed two amended emergency epidemic orders that loosen months-long restrictions across a variety of sectors.
Starting Friday, restaurants and bars can allow for 50 percent indoor capacities, or up to 100 people. Tables must be 6 feet apart with no more than six people per table. A statewide curfew for restaurants and bars was also extended from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m.
The order allows indoor entertainment venues to open at 50 percent capacity, or up to 300 people; exercise facilities and casinos can open at 30 percent capacity; and retail stores can allow 50 percent capacity. Indoor stadiums and arenas can have up to 375 people if their capacity is less than 10,000 people, or 750 if capacity is more than 10,000.
The capacity restrictions are in place until April 19.
The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association welcomed the loosened restrictions but raised concerns about the six-week duration.
“We are hopeful that this DHHS Order represents a paradigm shift in the administration’s overall approach to the hospitality industry, accepting that the dramatically reduced hospitalization rate and increased vaccine distribution mean our most vulnerable populations are protected and that reopening should advance in a timely manner,” MRLA President and CEO Justin Winslow said in a statement. “While we are disappointed about the length of the Order given the fragile state of the hospitality industry and improving outcomes, we are committed to working toward collaborative and consistent — emphasis on consistent — progress towards the full reintegration of the industry as Michigan moves more fully into a new phase of this pandemic.”
The Michigan Licensed Beverage Association also called the order a “step in the right direction” but said it is “truly disappointed” with the ongoing 100-person cap.
“Larger establishments with greater capacity limits have more space to spread patrons out. If people are abiding by social distancing rules, there’s no need for an arbitrary cap for any establishment regardless of size,” MLBA Executive Director Scott Ellis said in a statement.
Tuesday’s amended orders come as the state sees continued improvement in COVID-19 case rates, hospitalizations and test positivity rate, which continues below 4 percent. While state officials raised concerns about the potential spread of new COVID-19 variants, the growing deployment of vaccines — including a third by Johnson & Johnson that will be produced at Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing Inc. in Grand Rapids — and declining numbers in key metrics led to Tuesday’s orders.
“This pandemic is not over and we must all continue to remain vigilant,” said Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. “The good news is we have the tools we need to fight this pandemic.”