State Opens Restaurants to Indoor Dining Effective Feb. 1 With Curfew, Limitations

For Essence Restaurant group owners, what’s put on the plate isn’t the only thing that’s important. How the entire operation works to better its community is also key. Photo by Adam Bird

The state of Michigan is lifting the ban on indoor dining – and several other items – after state officials determined the state is trending down in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state Department of Health and Human Services released its next epidemic order today, which allows for indoor dining effective Monday, Feb. 1.

The order will allow for indoor dining at restaurants with certain requirements; concessions at casinos, movie theaters and stadiums; personal services requiring mask removal; and non-residential gatherings of up to 10 people from two households. The new order will last three weeks, until Sunday, Feb. 21.

“The pause has worked. The efforts we have made together to protect our families, frontline workers and hospitals have dramatically reduced cases and we have saved lives. Now, we are confident … restaurants can resume indoor dining with safety measures in place,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. “Michigan continues to be a national leader in fighting this virus, and we must continue working to keep it that way.”

Restaurants and bars will be allowed to reopen at 25% capacity with up to 100 people. Tables must be six feet apart with no more than six people per table. Outdoor tents with four sides are permitted under these same rules. Bars and restaurants must close by 10 p.m. Additionally, contact information must be collected from diners for contact tracing purposes.

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Grand Rapids Chamber President/CEO Rick Baker called the move “a positive step,” but urged the state to find a way to increase the 25% capacity limit.

We need to give our small business operators and employees the chance to operate safely,” Baker said. “As one of the only states with an indoor dining ban, the pause has had a devastating impact on this industry and its workforce, putting many workers on unemployment and small businesses on the edge of bankruptcy with an uncertain future.

“While we applaud the step forward, the 25% capacity limit will not be enough to sustain these businesses,” he added. “We hope specific details are shared soon on how capacity can be increased. To help Michiganders pull together to make this step successful for our restaurants and communities, we urge the governor to establish a data-driven path to a safe and sustainable reopening.”

The decision, state officials pointed out, is based on the metrics they’ve been watching in terms of the spread of the coronavirus. Michigan, they said, continues to see improvements in these metrics which has allowed for additional relaxing of protocols and reopening of activities. In recent days:  

  • Hospital capacity dedicated to COVID-19 patients has been in seven-week decline, with current capacity at 9.9% for beds with COVID-19 patients. Peaked at 19.6% on Tuesday, Dec. 4. 
  • Overall case rates:  Currently at 225 cases per million. Peaked at 740 cases per million on Saturday, Nov. 14, plateaued after a decline to 239 on Friday, Dec. 25 and has been in decline for 11 days.  
  • Positivity rate: currently at 6.8% and declining.  

“We are pleased to see the improvements in case rates, hospitalizations and percent positivity that have allowed us to reopen more activities,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS. “However, we must remain vigilant, especially since we now have a new more easily transmitted variant of this virus present in our state. This is not the time to let our guard down and Michiganders should minimize their risk by avoiding gatherings, wearing masks properly, social distancing and making a plan to get their vaccine when it is their turn.”

MDHHS Director Robert Gordon said the lifting of these restrictions was “possible because of … progress over the last two months.”

“Even so, the science is clear that unmasked, indoor activities like dining and drinking are still a source of high risk around COVID-19,” Gordon said. “The safest course remains to support your favorite restaurant with carryout, delivery or outdoor dining. If individuals choose to eat out, there are two things they can do to make it much safer: go out only with members of their own household and choose a restaurant participating in the MI COVID-19 Safer Dining certification program.”

Indoor residential and non-residential gatherings are 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. 

The epidemic order continues to temporarily pause indoor contact sports and other venues and activities where participants have close physical contacts and are not consistently masked, like water parks. However, as of Jan. 22, stadiums can allow up to 500 people at venues that seat over 10,000 people and stadiums that seat less than 10,000 are allowed to be at 20% capacity, up to 250 people. This will allow for additional attendance at high school football finals being hosted this weekend.