State Extends Bar, Restaurant Restrictions

Michigan residents hoping they’d be able to get back into their favorite restaurants or bars when the state’s COVID-19 “pause to save lives” ended Tuesday night – and the owners of those same bars and restaurants — were disappointed Monday.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has extended by 12 days the epidemic order that restricts indoor social gatherings and other group activities. Officials say the additional 12 days will allow the department to determine the full impact of the Thanksgiving holiday on the spread of COVID-19 across Michigan.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made the announcement during her coronavirus update Monday afternoon. The state’s move extends the “pause to save lives” through Dec. 20.

“We have not yet seen the full impact of activities around Thanksgiving … and we’re very worried it could be significant,” Whitmer said Monday. “We can’t afford to let up now. We need more time.”

The new MDHHS order means:

  • Bars and restaurants must remain closed for dine-in service, but can remain open for outdoor dining, carry-out and delivery.
  • Gyms are open for individual exercise with mandatory masking and strict safety measures.
  • Casinos, movie theaters and group exercise classes remain closed.
  • Professional and college sports meeting extraordinary standards for risk mitigation may continue, but without spectators.
  • Colleges, universities and high schools will continue with remote learning, with no in-person classes.

MDHHS officials continue to urge families to avoid indoor gatherings, and only two households may gather inside, with strict protocols recommended. Individuals should wear masks consistently whenever they are inside with individuals not in their household, and are recommended to pick only a small group to see regularly.

“We each have a personal responsibility to wear a mask consistently and minimize indoor gatherings, so we can protect our frontline heroes and loved ones,” said MDHHS Director Robert Gordon. “If we don’t, the disease will continue to spread and people will continue to get sick and die.”

The current restrictions were imposed by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services effective Nov. 18. They were due to expire at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.

The order keeps existing measures in place and does not include a blanket stay-home action. Employees who work in jobs that cannot be performed from home can continue to go to work, including those in manufacturing, construction and health occupations.

Outdoor gatherings, outdoor dining and parks remain open. Individualized activities with distancing and face masks are still allowed: retail shopping; public transit; restaurant takeout; personal-care services such as haircuts, by appointment; and individualized exercise at a gym, with extra spacing between machines. 

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said there have been early “signs of progress” in case rates and hospitalizations.

“Unfortunately our rates are still alarmingly high and we need more time to understand the impact that Thanksgiving travel may have had on the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan,” Khaldun said. “I am hopeful because vaccines will be available soon, potentially later this month. However, it will take time for the vaccine to be widely available to the general public, and it is important that we continue to do what we can to contain this virus.”

MDHHS also identified three key metrics that will be utilized in determining whether to slowly reopen at the end of the 12 days. Specifically, the department will be looking closely at the percentage of hospital beds with COVID patients, the number of COVID-19 cases and the positivity rate.

With improvements in those numbers in context, Gordon said, MDHHS will carefully reopen, 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. 

Whitmer’s announcement came hours after the Michigan Health and Hospital Association issued a statement urging Whitmer and the state DHSS to extend the lockdown through the holidays.

The MHAA, representing hospitals around the state, said the current three-week “pause” is “slowly stabilizing the spread” of the virus.

“To see meaningful change that truly alleviates stress on the healthcare system, we urge the state to extend protections through the holiday season,” the MHAA said in its statement.

While the virus continues its rampage through Michigan, there have been some positive signs. New cases in the state (45,015 last week) dropped for the second consecutive week following 10 straight weeks with cases on the rise.

On Friday, some three weeks before Christmas, more than 3,700 people were hospitalized in Michigan, up more than 30% from three weeks prior.