There may finally be a light at the end of the tunnel for restaurant and bar owners who’ve been clamoring for the return of indoor dining.
Although it will come with a curfew and capacity restrictions, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Wednesday the goal is for bars and restaurants to be able to reopen for indoor dining – with the restrictions – effective Feb. 1.
And, while that’s still nearly three weeks away, it’s at least a glimmer of hope. In a statement posted to its Facebook page Tuesday, officials from the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association expressed both disappointment in the delay and optimism about the reopening.
“The reopening (gives) owners time to work with supply chain and figure out staffing,” the statement read. “Although we are disappointed with the idea of being closed for another two weeks, finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel is certainly reassuring.”
Whitmer said Wednesday that, while the epidemic order updated by the state Department of Health and Human Services continues to restrict indoor dining, the “working plan” is to open indoor dining with mitigation measures, capacity limits and a curfew on Feb. 1.
“If our numbers continue to head in the right direction our hope is we will be able to resume indoor dining with strong safety measures in place on Feb. 1,” Whitmer said. “We’re working on a path to allow indoor dining at restaurants with safety measures such as mask requirements, capacity limits and a curfew.”
She cautioned, though, that the ultimate decision will still depend on COVID-19 spread in the state continues to stabilize. She said additional details will be available next week.
“Our restaurant owners have made considerable sacrifices over the past 10 months to keep communities safe and to save lives,” Whitmer said. “There’s no question it’s been hard for (restaurant) owners and for their employees … I know it has not been easy. There are a lot of people out there who spent their lives building up their businesses, and they are precarious. We are here to try to make sure we get through this time together.”
The MDHHS updated its epidemic order Wednesday to allow re-opening of additional activities where Michiganders can remain masked and socially distanced, as this has been scientifically shown to slow the virus. This includes indoor group exercise and non-contact sports. The new order is effective Saturday, Jan. 16 and will last until Sunday, Jan. 31.
“The efforts we have made together to protect our families, frontline workers and small business owners are working. While there has been a slight uptick in our percent positivity rate, our cases per million have plateaued and more hospital beds are becoming available. Today, we are confident that MDHHS can lift some of the protocols that were previously in place,” Whitmer said. “Michigan is once again standing out as a nationwide leader in fighting this virus, and we must continue working to keep it that way. One of the most important things Michiganders can do is to make a plan to get the safe and effective vaccine when it’s available to you. And as always, mask up and maintain six feet of social distancing. We will end this pandemic together.”
Indoor residential gatherings remain limited to 10 people and two households. MDHHS continues to urge families to avoid indoor gatherings or to pick a single other household to interact with consistent with guidance already released by the department. Families are encouraged to stay home as much as possible to maintain momentum and to protect loved ones. Families are also encouraged to Mask Up, Mask Right, using guidance for what masks to wear and how to wear them.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said the state continues “to make progress” in the fight against the virus. Expanding vaccination to healthcare workers, long-term care residents and staff, some frontline workers and residents 65 and older is “bringing us closer” to ending the pandemic.
“It is important that everyone continues to do their part by avoiding gatherings, wearing masks properly and social distancing,” Khaldun said. “This remains just as important, even as the safe and effective vaccine is being administered, to protect those who are not yet able to be vaccinated.”
Previously, MDHHS had identified stabilization or declines in three metrics as critical for relaxing protocols. Although Michigan saw improvements across all three following the “pause” implemented in mid-November, some numbers have plateaued or begun to increase in recent days:
- Hospital capacity dedicated to COVID-19 patients has been in 13-day decline, with current capacity is at 12% for beds with COVID-19 patients. Peaked at 19.6% on Tuesday, Dec. 4.
- Overall case rates: increasing, currently at 266 cases per million. Peaked at 740 cases per million on Saturday, Nov. 14 and declined to a low of 239 on Friday, Dec. 25
- Positivity rate: plateauing; currently at 9.1% after reaching a low of 8.1% on Monday, Dec. 28 and increasing up to 10% since then.
MDHHS Director Robert Gordon said the state is “reopening cautiously because caution is working to save lives.” The new order, he pointed out, allows group exercise and non-contact sports, always with masks and social distancing, because “in the winter it’s not as easy to get out and exercise and physical activity is important for physical and mental health.”
“We are glad that we made it through the holidays without a big increase in numbers, but there are also worrying signs in the new numbers,” Gordon said. “We need to remain focused and continue to see declines in hospitalizations and to bring case rates and percent positivity down by doing what we know works.”
Colleges and universities can have students return to campus for the winter semester and restart in-person courses as of Jan. 18.
As before, employees who work in jobs that cannot be performed from home can continue to go to work, while employees who can work from home should continue to do so. Individualized activities with distancing and face masks are still allowed: retail shopping; public transit; restaurant takeout; and personal-care services such as haircuts, by appointment.