Whitmer says restaurants could be allowed to reopen for indoor dining in February if COVID-19 cases stabilize


The coronavirus crisis came to Michigan just as Detroit's Kuzzo's Chicken & Waffles returned from a hiatus. The restaurant was forced to quickly adapt, installing plexiglass panes and pivoting to takeout service. - DAVID RUDOLPH PR
  • David Rudolph PR
  • The coronavirus crisis came to Michigan just as Detroit's Kuzzo's Chicken & Waffles returned from a hiatus. The restaurant was forced to quickly adapt, installing plexiglass panes and pivoting to takeout service.

Indoor dining could be allowed to resume at Michigan bars and restaurants if COVID-19 cases continue to stabilize, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other officials said in a press conference on Wednesday.

"If numbers continue to head in the right direction, our hope is that 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 starting on Feb. 1."

Whitmer also acknowledged the "considerable sacrifices" restaurant owners have made since the pandemic hit in March. Indoor dining at restaurants has been prohibited since November, when the state implemented new restrictions aimed at slowing down a surge of COVID-19 cases.

"There's no question it's been hard for the owners or their employees," Whitmer said. "I know that it has not been easy, and there are a lot of people out there who spent their lives building up their businesses, and they are precarious, and some of them may not make it out all right. We are here to try to make sure that we get through this time together, so we're doing everything we can to protect you and your workers."

Whitmer said she and other governors in the Midwest have had discussions with the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden to request federal aid for the restaurant industry.

Additional details on reopening restaurants are expected to be announced this week. In the meantime, restaurants can still offer outdoor dining, carry-out, and delivery.

The officials also announced the re-opening of other activities, including indoor group exercise and non-contact sports, which goes into effect between Jan. 16 and Jan. 31. Colleges and universities can also have students return to campus for the winter semester and restart in-person courses on Jan. 18.

Masks and social distancing are required.

According to the officials, the new restrictions have helped slow the rate of spread of COVID-19:

• 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, after peaking at 19.6% on Tuesday, Dec. 4.

• Overall case rates are increasing, currently at 266 cases per million. They peaked at 740 cases per million on Saturday, Nov. 14 and declined to a low of 239 on Friday, Dec. 25

• Positivity rate is plateauing; currently at 9.1% after reaching a low of 8.1% on Monday, Dec. 28 and increasing up to 10% since then.

Indoor residential gatherings remain limited to 10 people and two households, with officials urging families to avoid indoor gatherings or to pick a single other household to interact with. Employees are also encouraged to work from home if they can do so.

The news comes as Michigan is administering its first doses of the COVID-19 vaccines. Frontline workers and the elderly are being given first priority, while everyone else is expected to have access in the coming months.

"We continue to make progress in our fight against this virus, and expanding vaccination to healthcare workers, long-term care residents and staff, some essential frontline workers and those age 65 and older is bringing us closer to ending the pandemic," said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS. "It is important that everyone continues to do their part by avoiding gatherings, wearing masks properly and social distancing. 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."

The U.S. reported its worst day ever for COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, when more than 4,300 deaths were attributed to the virus.

"I was aghast when I saw the national reporting last night that we lost 4,200 people in one 24-hour period," Whitmer said. "In this nation, we're having a 9-11 event every day in this country. This virus is still a very real threat."

Still, she said that Michigan is managing the virus better than nearby states like Ohio and Illinois.

"The strength that we have now, the goals that we have made, the leadership position that we are in is all very tenuous," she said. "It depends on all of us continuing to take this virus seriously."

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