Busy week of Michigan COVID news: Whitmer’s restaurant photo, new restrictions, returning to work

Michiganders can return to in-person work, starting Monday


LANSING, Mich. – There’s been a lot of news surrounding COVID-19 in Michigan over the past week, from a picture of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer violating restrictions at a restaurant, a brand-new reopening timeline and people returning to work.

Here’s a recap of all the top storylines.

Whitmer’s restaurant photo

More controversy is swirling around the governor’s handling of the pandemic after a picture surfaced showing her sitting with a large party at a restaurant.

Since restaurant restrictions were first put in place a year ago, Michiganders have only been allowed to dine in groups of up to six people. The photo from this weekend showed Whitmer with at least 12 people.

Whitmer said she went to the restaurant with some friends and when more people arrived, tables were pushed together to merge parties. She said everyone was vaccinated, so they didn’t stop to think about it being an issue.

“In retrospect, I should have thought about it,” Whitmer said. “I am human. I made a mistake, and I apologize.”

FAA investigation

Outrage over the restaurant photo has perhaps been amplified because of another recent debate centered around Whitmer: Her flight to Florida to visit her sick father.

Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration announced it is officially investigating that trip because a violation of federal aviation regulations might have taken place. Officials said Air Eagle, the Detroit company that owns the plane Whitmer rode to Florida, does not have a Part 135 certificate.

“When I ran for governor, I talked about all the different hats that I wear, that so many people wear, just like me -- mostly women, frankly,” Whitmer said when asked about the controversy at a recent COVID briefing. “The hat of taking care of my mom at the end of her life. Rearing my daughter at the beginning of hers. Also serving as a state representative and having to fight to make sure that my mom had what she needed at the end of her life. This is a part of my story. So for anyone to be surprised that I had a family member who has been having a lot of health issues -- that I showed up to check in. I don’t think -- they’re obviously not paying attention to who I am and what I do.”

Whitmer said she took a quick trip to Florida and did a lot of cooking and cleaning while also continuing to handle her daily duties.

“I was on regular calls and conferences with my team,” Whitmer said. “I didn’t miss any of that work, as well. When you’re the governor of Michigan, you’re always on the clock, but it doesn’t mean that you’re not also a daughter who shows up when a family member needs her.”

Timeline for lifting restrictions

Michigan overhauled its “MI Vacc To Normal” plan last week to more closely align with new recommendations from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

DETAILS: 7 facts to know about Michigan’s new plan to fully reopen, return to normal

Instead of having four stages of reopening based on the percentage of Michiganders who have received a dose of the COVID vaccine, Michigan will reopen in two steps. Those two steps are tied to dates: June 1 and July 1.

On June 1, all outdoor capacity limits will be lifted.

“We will maintain our mask rule, as already announced, but otherwise lift all mitigation measures on outdoor gatherings, and only retain a 50% capacity limit on indoor establishments,” Whitmer said. “That means that an indoor social gathering like a wedding or a funeral or a conference or a graduation party will be allowed to resume at 50% capacity through the month of June.”

On July 1, Michigan will take its final step in reopening by lifting the broad mask and gatherings order and will no longer impose broad mitigation measures during the pandemic. Businesses and workplaces have the right to require masks beyond that date.

Return to work

Although the old version of the MI Vacc To Normal plan has been replaced, it will still leave its mark as part of the reopening process.

Since 55% of Michiganders 16 and up received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine -- the first threshold outlined in the plan -- everyone would be allowed to return to in-person work two weeks later.

The milestone was reached May 10, so the first day back to work for those employees is today (May 24).

MIOSHA is finalizing rules for return-to-work in Michigan. Whitmer is scheduled to discuss those rules during a live briefing in Grand Rapids.

Restaurants curfew

June 1 will also signal the end of the curfew for Michigan restaurants and bars -- one of the most significant remaining restrictions on businesses.

Since November, restaurants and bars have had to shut down indoor dining early. Originally, the curfew was 10 p.m., but it is currently 11 p.m.

In about a week, that will no longer be the case.

COVID cases continue to drop

Michigan’s daily COVID-19 cases continued to drop over the weekend, as Saturday’s update nearly saw the state dip below 1,000 new cases for the first time since March 9.

The total number of new COVID cases announced was 1,013. That’s a dramatic drop from mid-April, when Michigan peaked at 8,955 new COVID cases on April 16. The winter peak came on Nov. 20, when Michigan announced 9,779 new cases.

Michigan has been well below 2,000 per-day cases since May 13.

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.