Michigan halts classes, indoor dining as coronavirus surges


LANSING — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration on Sunday ordered high schools and colleges to stop in-person classes, closed restaurants to indoor dining and suspended organized sports – including the football playoffs – in a bid to curb the state’s spiking coronavirus cases.

The restrictions will begin Wednesday and last three weeks. They are not as sweeping as when the Democratic governor issued a stay-at-home order last spring but are extensive. They were announced as Michigan faces surging COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations statewide and rising deaths.

“The situation has never been more dire. We are at the precipice and we need to take some action,” Whitmer said at an evening news conference.

An order written by the state health department prohibits high schools, colleges and universities from offering in-person instruction. K-8 schools can continue with on-site classes due to lower transmission rates, though – as before – it is not required. Restaurants, now operating at 50% capacity, must halt dine-in service inside.

Indoor residential gatherings, which were capped at 10 people, can include no more than two households. Outdoor gatherings are limited to a maximum of 25 people. Entertainment facilities such as theaters, bowling alleys and indoor water parks must close again. Gyms and pools can stay open but not offer group classes. Professional sports and some college sports are still allowed, with enhanced testing.

Whitmer urged the public to “double down” with precautions such as wearing a mask and keeping distance to avoid a second stay-at-home order.

Robert Gordon, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services, noted that the order “focuses on indoor gatherings and the settings where groups gather and where the virus can thrive.”

Michigan’s seven-day average of daily new cases has more than doubled from 3,113 to 6,684 over two weeks. Daily deaths also have surged, from 25 to 62, according to The COVID Tracking Project. The number of patients currently hospitalized, about 3,000, has risen sixfold in under two months.

The governor’s announcement drew mixed reaction. Hospitals, universities, colleges, community colleges and K-12 school boards backed the move. But the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest school employee union, said it did not go far enough and added that in-person learning should be paused for all grades.

“These are frightening and stressful times for everyone in public education – from employees to parents to students,” said MEA President Paula Herbart.

Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association President and CEO Justin Winslow noted that “there are no easy decisions right now” but criticized closing restaurants for a second time this year – “this time with no safety net of federal stimulus dollars to soften the blow to already ailing operators and employees.” He said just 4.4% of identified outbreaks have been tracked to restaurants.

Whitmer said the virus has spread so much that it is too inherently risky to have people from multiple households dining in a restaurant.

Republicans who control the Legislature, who previously successfully challenged the governor’s use of an emergency-powers law to manage the crisis, again accused her of acting unilaterally. They have opposed her call to codify a mask mandate.

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