Published in Economic Development

Whitmer halts indoor service at bars after COVID-19 cases spike

BY Wednesday, July 01, 2020 04:43pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer today ordered bars across much of the Lower Peninsula to close indoor service by late tonight to “protect the progress Michigan has made against COVID-19.”

Whitmer’s executive order that takes effect at 11 p.m. closes bars and nightclubs for indoor service. Restaurants may remain open for indoor service, although “alcohol can be served only to patrons who are seated at socially distanced tables,” according to the executive order issued this afternoon.

“Common areas where people stand and congregate within restaurants must be closed. Restaurants and bars may remain open for outdoor seating, but only for seated customers at socially distanced tables,” the order states.

The executive order excludes the Upper Peninsula and the northern Lower Peninsula.

Whitmer issued the order after the state began recording daily increases in new COVID-19 cases in the Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Lansing regions. She said in a statement that nearly a quarter of new cases diagnosed in June involved 20-29 year olds. The rate was 16 percent for that age group in May.

“We owe it to our front line heroes who have sacrificed so much during this crisis to do everything we can to slow the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the chance of a resurgence like we are seeing in other states,” Whitmer said. “Following recent outbreaks tied to bars, I am taking this action today to slow the spread of the virus and keep people safe. If we want to be in a strong position to reopen schools for in-person classroom instruction this fall, then we need to take aggressive action right now to ensure we don’t wipe out all the progress we have made.” 

The executive order applies to bars and nightclubs with on-premises retailer liquor licenses that generate more than 70 percent of gross receipts from alcohol sales. The governor noted that most brewpubs, distilleries and vineyards can stay open.

“If we open up our economy too quickly, the efforts of the last three months will be for nothing and we will have to go through this pain all over again and put our economy, health and medical system at risk. Nobody wants to move backward,” Whitmer said.

The Michigan Licensed Beverage Association swiftly criticized the order.

“The governor has effectively hurt every local small-town bar in the state — establishments that aren’t the bad actors,” MLBA Executive Director Scott Ellis said in a statement. “Instead of focusing on problem bars or problem areas, she’s going to kill businesses that are abiding by all of the rules and still struggling to survive. It seems like 70 was chosen as an arbitrary percentage that holds no validity in terms of safety.”

The order came hours after the governor signed a package of bills today that allow for the sale of cocktails-to-go and alcohol consumption in established social districts. Lawmakers passed the legislation with broad support a week ago.

“Bars will not have to close down completely, but may still offer outdoor seating and use creative methods like cocktails-to-go in hopes that we can bring our numbers down,” Whitmer said. “I am hopeful providing options for cocktails-to-go and expanded social districts will ensure these businesses can remain open and Michiganders can safely and responsibly enjoy their summer outdoors.” 

Whitmer’s order also requires restaurants that serve alcohol to wear a face mask when at the table or the bar, to stay seated except to leave or use the restroom, only sell alcohol at the tables, prohibit access to common areas where people can congregate, and follow safeguards required under prior orders.

As of Wednesday, Michigan had 64,132 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 5,911 deaths. That’s an increase of 262 cases and four more deaths from Tuesday.

Read 2497 times Last modified on Wednesday, 01 July 2020 16:56
SUBSCRIBE TO MIBIZ TODAY FOR WEST MICHIGAN’S FINEST BUSINESS NEWS REPORTING >