Gov. Whitmer: Michigan restaurants likely can offer dining Feb. 1

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LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday she hopes to let restaurants reopen for indoor dining Feb. 1, as her health department extended a two-month ban by an additional two weeks while letting noncontact sports resume this weekend.

The plan is to allow dining with mitigation measures, capacity limits and a curfew. Organized noncontact sports and group exercise classes can start Saturday.

“Our numbers have been headed in the right direction,” the Democratic governor said during a news conference while noting a recent slight uptick in the percent of tests coming back positive. “The pause that (the state) issued is working.”

Michigan, which had one of the country’s lowest per-capita rates of new cases over the past two weeks, is among just a few states to allow no indoor restaurant dining and is the only one without a detailed plan on how and when reopening can occur, according to the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association.

“The governor’s continuation of this pause without a plan — now expanding to 75 days — is without parallel in the nation in terms of its unwillingness or inability to provide leadership to a decimated industry and its workforce,” MRLA President and CEO Justin Winslow said.

The state is expected to release details on the reopening next week, including mitigation steps such as reducing the number of people in restaurants and improving ventilation.

Republican lawmakers who have been critical of the order said restaurants should be able to open when they are ready. House Speaker Jason Wentworth called Feb. 1 “an arbitrary date.” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said “overreach by the governor has crippled an entire industry and peripheral supply chain businesses.”

Whitmer, as she has before, said indoor restaurant dining is inherently riskier because people mix households and remove their masks to eat and drink.

“We’ve got a date. We can work toward that with the industry to make sure that we can keep their patrons and their employees safe as they open,” she said.

Since the Whitmer administration closed restaurants and bars, effective Nov. 18, it has let high schools resume in-person instruction and has allowed entertainment businesses to reopen with restrictions. State officials are watching three key COVID-19 metrics.

Over nearly two months, the statewide seven-day case average is down to 3,349, from 6,687. The positivity rate is 8.2%, a drop from 9.8%, according to The COVID Tracking Project. About 12% of hospital beds had virus patients, a decrease from about 20% in early December.

Indoor residential gatherings remain limited to no more than 10 people and two households. Masks also are required in many settings. Night clubs, strip clubs and water parks are still closed.

Robert Gordon, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said his order has prevented thousands of infections and saved hundreds of lives, but he recognized its toll, particularly in the winter. Again allowing group fitness classes and indoor athletics with distancing and masks, he said, will support physical and mental health.

Youth practices will be allowed in gyms, but not competitive games that involve contact.

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