Concerns Shift To Capacity Limits & Curfew As Gov Allows Indoor Dining
January 26, 2021
The restaurant industry and their allies were relieved to see confirmation of the Feb. 1 reopening of indoor dining, but many weren’t happy with the restrictions that came along with it.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Friday announced the finalization of the Feb. 1 reopening of indoor dining for restaurants and bars, but with a 10 p.m. curfew and a 25% capacity limit, up to 100 people, under the newest epidemic order issued by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services that will take effect Feb. 1 and run until Feb. 21.
The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association said Friday it welcomed the “good, if overdue news” about indoor dining being allowed to resume, but called for Whitmer to “move aggressively towards a more comprehensive reintegration strategy, which includes prioritizing vaccination for the broader hospitality industry and establishing clear metrics for phased reopening to 100% capacity of indoor dining.”
Grand Rapids Chamber President & CEO Rick Baker said the 25% capacity limit for restaurants “will not be enough to sustain these businesses. We hope specific details are shared soon on how capacity can be increased.”
The Michigan Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA) also took issue with the capacity limit, 100-person limit and the 10 p.m. curfew.
“One-size-fits-all restrictions like these simply don’t make sense. A breakfast diner doesn’t have a problem abiding by a night-time curfew, but an upscale dining establishment in downtown Detroit does because people don’t typically frequent those places until later in the evening,” said Scott Ellis, executive director of the MLBA, in a statement. “In respect to the 100-person limit, a pub and a large entertainment center are treated the same way under these restrictions despite the obvious size difference. If an establishment is able to abide by social distancing measures, they should be able to allow more customers in.”
Calling it “a good start but a half-loaf,” Ellis said his members would prefer to re-open indoor dining and drinking at 50% capacity.
“We still maintain that the bar and restaurants aren’t the problem,” he said, and he notes the two sides disagree on the data upon which she imposed the indoor ban in the first place.
That said, Ellis pledged to continue to work with the administration and notes that the lines of communication are good and he is grateful for that. However, his members have told him that they aren’t out of the woods either, to borrow the governor’s phrase.
Based on the 10 p.m. curfew and limited capacity inside, although outdoor service is not affected, he said, “25% of my members won’t last more than a month and 20% won’t even bother to re-open.” He said another survey is being taken to refine those numbers.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), in his response, called the capacity limit “an arbitrary and meager percentage of operating capacity that will not help them bring their businesses back from the brink of failure. If the governor thinks 25 percent is adequate, perhaps Gov. Whitmer should only receive 25 percent of her salary.”
This last comment, which the Senate Republican Caucus cc’ed the Senate Democratic Caucus on over Twitter, received strong pushback from Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor).
“Take the exact amount that you spent last year in lawsuits challenging the governor — what was it, something like $500,000 — on life-saving COVID-19 protocols and put that amount directly into the pockets of the restaurant workers,” she wrote among numerous other suggestions.
Rep. John DaMoose (R-Harbor Springs), Sen. Dale Zorn (R-Ida) and Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox also lobbed criticisms at the restrictions that came along with the opening of indoor dining.
Rep. Ben Frederick (R-Owosso) said Whitmer appeared to be “making things up on the fly” instead of “engaging on a data-driven approach I worked with health experts to put forward last year or signal any return to the phased plan she herself laid out in the MI Safe Start Plan.”
Despite state officials’ concerns about the new COVID-19 variant, which is now up to three cases after the state discovered two more tied to the first one, Whitmer said the goal is to allow for more expansions, as long as the spread of the virus is kept in check, when asked about the possibility of again pausing indoor dining.
The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners, ahead of the press conference Friday, urged Whitmer to reopen the restaurants sooner than Feb. 1.
Asked why the state was sticking to that date, the governor said, “what we have done in the past is to have some lead time, and that’s what we’ve heard from the industry, too.” She said there needs to be planning time built in to bring on staff and purchase supplies.
Other protocols for indoor dining require tables be six feet apart with no more than six people per table, while contact information must be collected from diners for contact tracing purposes.
As part of indoor dining resuming, the state is also rolling out a voluntary MI COVID-19 Safer Dining program to allow food service establishments to become certified by having their ventilation system inspected and submitting their inspection report to the state indicating they are optimizing airflow.
Once certified, businesses would be featured on a state website and receive a copy of their certification to post at their establishment to alert diners of their participation.
Funding is proposed for food service establishments to participate as part of the $10 million included in the recent supplemental budget request for restaurant supports administered by the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Also as announced as part of the order Friday, large stadiums will also be allowed more capacity to allow for additional attendance at high school football finals.
The new capacity limits allow for 500 people at venues that seat over 10,000 people, while stadiums that seat less than 10,000 are allowed to be at 20% capacity, up to 250 people.
The order also will allow concessions at casinos, movie theaters and stadiums, personal services requiring mask removal and non-residential gatherings of up to 10 people from two households, according to a press release.
Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Potterville) commended Whitmer “for partially heeding his request to increase capacity restrictions at large sports venues,” but said he wished the limit had been set higher.
“This change will allow twice as many DeWitt and New Lothrop fans to support their friends or family members in the football championships this weekend, but the administration could do more,” Barrett said. “If a stadium with 10,000 seats can safely hold 500 people, there is no reason a stadium with 65,000 seats could not safely hold over 3,000 people.”
At this point, the only things that aren’t open are night clubs, all contact sports except for professional sports, water parks, and workplaces when work can be done from home, according to the state.
Zorn decried the continued ban on high school winter contact sports, saying that “our youth and student athletes continue to have their seasons delayed regardless of the preventive actions they have taken to stay safe and with absolutely no evidence these sports are a major driver in spreading COVID-19. Many of these kids will never get back these lost opportunities.”