LANSING, Mich. (AP/WOOD) — Restaurants, bars and other retail businesses can reopen in much of northern Michigan starting Friday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Monday — a key step for the tourism-dependent region before the Memorial Day weekend and summer season.
Social gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed in the area, too.
Bars and restaurants, which have only been able to do pickup and delivery due to coronavirus restrictions, will have to limit capacity to 50%. Groups must stay 6 feet apart, and servers will have to wear face coverings. Office business also will be able to resume if work cannot be performed remotely.
The governor’s latest coronavirus stay-at-home order still keeps food and drink establishments off limits to dine-in customers in 51 counties with 93% of the state’s 10 million people. Other places of public accommodation such as movie theaters, gyms and hair salons remain closed statewide, at least through May 28.
Whitmer called the partial reopening of northern Michigan a “big step,” but urged people to not “go rushing out.” She recommended that residents thinking about visiting the Upper Peninsula or a 17-county region of the northern Lower Peninsula — home to 7% of the population and just 1% of Michigan’s 4,915 deaths related to COVID-19 — to “think long and hard.”
“The whole state is watching to make sure we get this right,” said Whitmer, a Democrat who has been criticized by Republicans in the GOP-led Legislature for not restarting the economy sooner in regions with few cases.
Whitmer previously opened manufacturing plants and other businesses in a state with the fourth-highest reported death toll from COVID-19. She said she was hopeful about announcing the restart of sectors “in the lower parts of our state” before the three-day holiday weekend.
She also issued an order requiring businesses or operations that are allowed to require their employees to leave home for work to develop a COVID-19 preparedness and response plan and make it available to employees and customers by June 1 or within two weeks of resuming in-person activities, whichever is later.
Whitmer’s move applies to two of the eight regions established as part of her “MI Safe Start” plan. She pointed to their new cases per million residents each day — less than five and two — compared to the statewide average of 33. The Upper Peninsula and Traverse City regions account for 1% of deaths. About 79% of deaths are from three counties in metro Detroit.
Traverse City Mayor Jim Carruthers, who attended Whitmer’s news conference in Lansing, said “our welcome mat is out there” but also noted many major summer festivals — economic drivers for the region — have been canceled due to the pandemic. The reopening will be slow to ensure safety, he said.
“We must be mindful of this virus that is still spreading,” he said.
Under the governor’s worker and customer safeguards, restaurants and bars must close waiting areas; close self-serve food and drink options; post signs telling customers to wear masks until they get to their table; and install barriers such as sneeze guards at cash registers and other areas where maintaining 6 feet distance is difficult.
Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, said restaurateurs in the rest of the state hope to reopen, too. Their livelihood is tied to how well those in northern Michigan “execute,” he said.
The Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, which also represents bars and restaurants, said in a Monday statement that it was worried about the 50% capacity mandate, saying that might prove hard for some businesses. It said most are ready to reopen fully with safety measures in place. Last week, the MLBA released guidance for employers and employees about going back to work.
>>’It’s exciting’: UP restaurants ready to reopen Friday
Republican lawmakers, who have challenged Whitmer’s orders in court, said they had been pushing for a “commonsense” regional approach.
“This is a positive step that we’ve been requesting for over a month now, but the vast majority of Michigan is still held captive in the nation’s worst lockdown,” said House Speaker Lee Chatfield of Levering, whose district includes parts of the Upper and Lower peninsulas.
—AP writer Ed White in Detroit contributed.
GR BAR, RESTAURANT MANGER LOOKS NORTH
“I’m happy for them,” Ben Stoneman, general manager at Flanagan’s Irish Pub in downtown Grand Rapids, said of the northern bars and restaurants that will soon be able to reopen.
Though he can’t open his doors just yet, Stoneman said he’s already looking to his neighbors in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula for guidance.
“They are going to lead the pack,” Stoneman said. “They’re going to show us how to do it, how to stay safe and how to do it the right way.”
He, like other bars and restaurants in the state, will also be using the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association’s Roadmap to Reopening, which highlights state and federal guidelines.
“Obviously we don’t want another spike where were would have to shut down again,” Stoneman said. “That would kill a lot of restaurants.”
—News 8’s Donovan Long
LARGE CASE JUMP IN PRISONS
According to data released Monday, Michigan has recorded 51,915 cases and 4,915 deaths — an increase of 773 cases and 24 deaths since Sunday.
Of the 773 newly confirmed cases, 513 were within the Michigan Department of Corrections, the state said, where all inmates are getting tested. A total of 3,051 inmates have tested positive for the virus and 57 have died after contracting it.
In Wayne County, where the outbreak has been the worst, there were 63 more cases confirmed over the previous day, bringing the total to 19,128, and 23 more deaths for a total of 2,226. Also in metro Detroit, Oakland County has had 8,050 confirmed cases and 913 deaths. Macomb County has had 6,357 cases and 740 deaths.
Kent County had 43 more confirmed cases for a total of 2,868 and one more death for a total of 56.
Van Buren County also had one more death for a total of six. It has had 115 cases.
There here have been 24 deaths and 558 confirmed cases in Ottawa County. “Several” of the cases are at Christian Haven Home, an assisted living facility in Grand Haven, though authorities have not yet provided a precise number. One employee tested positive and a second is awaiting results.
COVID-19 presents with a fever, cough and shortness of breath. You can find a testing location near you on the state’s website and get information on how to set up an appointment. In Detroit, Mayor Mike Duggan said any city resident, regardless of age or lack of symptoms, can be tested for the virus for free at the former state fairgrounds.
On Friday, the most recent day for which state data is available, labs in Michigan tested 19,658 samples for coronavirus and 7% came back positive. In the region of the state that includes Kalamazoo and Battle Creek, 1,740 samples were tested and 4.2% were positive. In the region that includes Grand Rapids, 2,137 samples were tested and 7.6% were positive.
Statewide, positivity percentages have been declining, though increased testing has of course led to some higher percentages. Two weeks prior to Friday, on May 1, about 11,500 tests were run and nearly 10% were positive. Four weeks prior to Friday, on April 17, About 6,000 tests were run and nearly 17% were positive.
The state is ramping up testing because officials say it will be key in allowing the economy to reopen more fully. They hope to test 450,000 people this month and soon increase daily testing to 30,000.