Michigan restaurants were officially given the green light to reopen for indoor dining beginning Feb. 1 -- a welcome sign for the thousands of people who have struggled with the back-and-forth bar and restaurant closures.
On Friday morning, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer eased some of the state’s coronavirus restrictions with a new statewide epidemic order. Most notably, the order allows restaurants to resume indoor dining services on Feb. 1, in addition to allowing movie theaters and casinos to reopen concessions and more.
Michigan business owners, employees and patrons alike have waited months for the good news -- but it doesn’t come without stipulations. Under the new order, restaurants must operate indoor dining services at only 25 percent capacity, sit six people or less at a table and follow a 10 p.m. curfew.
Restaurants and bars will also have to collect customers’ information for contact tracing purposes.
The state’s new order does allow bars and restaurants to enclose their outdoor dining spaces, in addition to providing access to a program that funds contractors to upgrade business’ ventilation systems. Gov. Whitmer has asked the state Legislature for $10 million to help fund this initiative, called the New COVID Safer Dining Program.
The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association (MRLA) is calling the state’s loosened restrictions overdue. The organization is pushing to get restaurant workers closer to the front of the vaccination line, saying “...there is no more important step the governor can take to get Michigan’s economy back on track than restoring public confidence in Michiganders ability to safely dine and travel.”
However, the state is grappling with the uncertainty of a new, more contagious coronavirus strain that has made its way to Michigan this month.
On Thursday, the state reported two additional cases of the COVID-19 variant in Washtenaw County, just days after the state’s first case was identified in a Washtenaw County woman. The three infected individuals were apparently in close contact with one another.
As the state eases some restrictions, Michigan’s chief medical officer Dr. Joneigh Khaldun is warning residents to remain cautious, especially those who may be most at risk.
“The safest thing to do -- especially if you are elderly, if you have underlying medical conditions or if you live with someone who’s elderly or has underlying medical conditions -- the safest thing to do is to not eat inside a restaurant,” Khaldun said.
Michigan Republicans are criticizing the state’s reopening order, calling on Gov. Whitmer to increase the restaurant capacity limit beyond 25 percent and do away with the 10 p.m. curfew altogether.
In a statement Friday, GOP party chair Laura Cox said the governor “continues to cripple restaurants with restrictions that are not rooted in science and only serve to kick businesses while (they’re) down.” Though Republicans in the state have consistently argued that indoor dining bans are not based on science, it is important to note that numerous studies from places like the University of Michigan have identified a link between indoor dining and the spread of COVID.
During a news conference Friday, Whitmer did not rule out the potential of another indoor dining ban down the road. Right now, the state’s coronavirus case rate, testing positivity rate and virus hospitalizations are all improving. However, if that changes, closing indoor dining is a tool that has now, repeatedly, led to a decrease in cases in the state.
Whitmer’s office is hoping that people take the precautions seriously this time around to avoid the need to shut down indoor dining again.