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‘Science is settled’: Michigan health officials defend keeping dine-in service closed in restaurants

New MDHHS order keeps restrictions in place through Dec. 20

Empty restaurant.
Empty restaurant.

DETROIT – Michigan has extended its three-week COVID restrictions for 12 additional days to gauge the impact of Thanksgiving -- an order that will keep dine-in service closed for restaurants and bars heading into the holiday season.

The new MDHHS order, which is in effect until Dec. 20, keeps the existing restrictions of the “three-week pause” in place, including a ban on dine-in service at restaurants, and in-person learning for high schools and colleges in the state.

More: Michigan COVID restrictions extended through Dec. 20: What to know

MDHHS laid out a plan to slowly reopen businesses at the end of the 12 day extension, with improvements in three key COVID metrics, but restaurants won’t be at the front of the line. Reopening would start with in-person learning at high schools first. Next in line will be entertainment venues where people can maintain consistent masking, such as casinos, theaters and bowling, with concessions closed.

“Businesses that are places where people come together, inside, from different households and remove their masks, like places where you eat or drink, are uniquely at risk in this moment,” Gov. Whitmer said. “It’s not the restaurant’s fault. It’s not the bar’s fault. It’s not our fault. It’s just the nature of COVID-19.”

Gov. Whitmer has pushed for an extension of unemployment and state funds to help struggling businesses in the Michigan Legislature, and has continued to push Congress to additional aid.

Related: Michigan Gov. Whitmer seeks $400M in COVID spending in Legislature

“The first priority is reopening high schools for education and sustaining that,” MDHHS director Gordon said. “The science on eating and drinking inside is settled.” Gordon cited a recent study where two people got COVID infections from someone else who was 15 to 20 feet away.

On Monday, Michigan health officials released a series of studies, which they have used to justify the decision to halt indoor dining. They include several studies from various points in the pandemic from South Korea, JP Morgan and Johns Hopkins University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Journal Nature.

More: Michigan health officials release studies used to determine COVID-19 restrictions

The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association released a statement on Monday, saying:

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel is scheduled to take up a request Thursday to authorize emergency use of Pfizer’s vaccine. Vaccinations could begin just days later, though initial supplies will be rationed, and shots are not expected to become widely available until the spring.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that health care workers and nursing home patients get priority when the first shots become available.

Both Pfizer’s vaccine and a Moderna vaccine that will also be reviewed by the FDA later this month require two doses a few weeks apart. Current estimates project that a combined total of no more than 40 million doses will be available by the end of the year. The plan is to use those to fully vaccinate 20 million people.

More: How to track Michigan COVID-19 data

MDHHS orders

MDHHS has the authority to issue these orders during the pandemic, and has been doing so since the Michigan Supreme Court struck down the law Whitmer was using to issue her executive orders.

Whitmer had previously been issuing restrictions without the approval of the Republican-led Legislature, but now the orders fall to MDHHS.

Related: Michigan rolls out coronavirus exposure app statewide: How it works, how to download


About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital special projects manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013.