Michigan restaurants push governor for May 29 reopening

Coronavirus

LANSING, Mich. (AP/WOOD) — Michigan restaurants and bars on Friday pushed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to let them reopen in three weeks, saying they need a lifeline to survive financially and a chance to show the public it is safe to return.

The businesses have been closed to dine-in customers since March 16. They hope to resume service on May 29, when restrictions are currently set to end.

Guidance released Friday by the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association to help restaurants prepare to reopen their dining rooms includes procedures for cleaning, screening workers, providing them masks and gloves, and keeping customers, tables and bar stools 6 feet apart.

“The No. 1 challenge for restaurants is still going to be convincing the public that restaurants are safe to return to. But they need to be given that chance,” said Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the industry group. He estimated that more than 20 restaurants a day will close for good this month despite the federal coronavirus relief package.

Whitmer indicated Thursday that bars and restaurants will not reopen until the state reaches the fifth of six phases for reengaging the economy. It is now in the third phase, during which the governor has allowed construction, real estate, outdoor work and — starting this Monday — manufacturing to resume.

For Michigan to progress to the fifth phase, coronavirus cases and deaths would have to reach “low absolute rates per capita,” hospital capacity would need to be “very strong,” and “robust” testing and contact tracing would have to be in place, according to a chart released by Whitmer.

“There’s not a lot of clarity there. There’s no date certain. All of that feels pretty malleable, and this industry needs some clarity and guidance because they’re closing,” Winslow said.

West Michigan restaurant owner, Ali Ghebleh of Shiraz, said the guidelines proposed are doable but will take time to implement.

“We need the heads up so we can prepare,” Ghebleh said. “It’s going to be different.”

Ghebleh said the health and safety of his staff and customers is the top priority, which is why he’s already envisioning what the future of in-house dining will look like.

“In the dining room, it’ll be every other table,” Ghebleh said. “That will give us 50% capacity, but once we open up to (the) public, we’re not going to be full — not in the beginning. It’s going to take time.”

Ohio bars and restaurants can fully reopen on May 21, with outside dining allowed on May 15. Ohio has about half of Michigan’s 45,600 COVID-19 cases and less than a third of the death toll, which is 4,343.

Whitmer said Thursday that the state has had a “uniquely tough time” with the disease, and she had to be aggressive with her orders.

“We have to reengage like a dial, not a switch that goes on or off, but a dial that we can turn,” she said. “We can continue to turn the intensity up if everyone does their part. We have to remember the threat of a second wave is very real.”

In a Friday statement provided to News 8, the governor’s office confirmed it had received the plan from MRLA.

“As the governor has said, she will be making decisions based on science and data,” spokesperson Tiffany Brown said. “She has brought together leaders in health care, business, labor, and education to develop the MI Safe Start plan to re-engage our economy in a way the protects workers and their families. She will continue to listen to medical experts and put the health and safety of Michiganders first.”

-News 8 Jacqueline Francis contributed to this report

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