Whitmer OKs theaters, bigger crowds; requires masks in K-5


LANSING — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Friday that movie theaters and other venues can reopen in two weeks after nearly seven months of closure during the coronavirus pandemic, and she relaxed a cap so more people can attend funerals and other indoor events.

The governor also issued an order requiring K-5 students — not just those in grades 6-12 — to wear masks in classrooms outside of northern Michigan beginning Oct. 5. She mandated that public and private schools publish information about confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases. She had previously strongly recommended face coverings for K-5 students in classrooms in most regions of the state.

Masks continue to be required in school hallways, common areas and on buses.

Indoor cinemas, performance venues, arcades, bingo halls, bowling alleys, indoor climbing facilities and trampoline parks — which have been operating in less-populated northern counties since June — can reopen statewide starting Oct. 9. They must limit occupancy to ensure 6 feet of distance between non-household members.

Whitmer revised a 10-person limit for indoor social gatherings and events in much of Michigan to allow bigger crowds in nonresidential venues like banquet halls — 20 people per 1,000 square feet or 20% of fixed seating capacity with a maximum of 500 people in the largest venues. Outdoor gatherings and events, limited to 100 people in southern counties, can have 30 people per 1,000 square feet at a nonresidential venue or 30% of seating capacity — up to 1,000 people.

Whitmer, a Democrat who has gradually reopened the economy over many months, said she took some of the most aggressive steps in the country to curb the deadly virus in the spring, when it hit and threatened to overwhelm Detroit-area hospitals. More than 7,000 confirmed or probable deaths have been linked to COVID-19, though the death rate is well below what it was in April and May. The state is faring better than its neighbors, enabling movie theaters and entertainment venues to reopen, she said.

Michigan’s per-capita rate of new confirmed cases, which has been rising, in the past two weeks ranks 11th-lowest among states, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. The COVID Tracking Project, which the AP uses to track testing, says the state’s seven-day average positivity rate is 12th-lowest. About 2.7% of those tested are getting positive results.

“I know these business owners have made incredible sacrifices during this crisis to protect our families and frontline workers, and my administration will continue working to help them get back on their feet,” Whitmer said in a written statement. “We are not out of the woods yet, and we will continue to monitor the effects of these incremental changes.”

The governor had faced pressure to reopen businesses including movie theaters, which are open in all but a handful of states. The funeral industry, restricted to 10 people for indoor funerals, had said the limit was way out of step compared to other Great Lakes states.

“One of the many unfortunate side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is that bereaved families across Michigan have not had the opportunity attend the rituals, services and ceremonies that allow them to pay their respects and process their grief over the loss of a loved one,” said Phil Douma, executive director of the Michigan Funeral Directors Association. “Increasing the number of people able to attend a funeral is the right thing to do, and grieving families across our state can now more properly mourn their losses and honor those they love.”

Under Whitmer’s order, indoor events can be slightly larger in the northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula — 25% of seating capacity or 25 people per 1,000 square feet.

Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association President and CEO Justin Winslow said the industry has been decimated since the onset of the pandemic. Loosening capacity restrictions, he said, “is a step in the right direction to give Michigan’s hospitality industry a better shot at remaining open and viable as the colder winter months approach.”

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