New contact tracing rules begin at restaurants, bars

Michigan

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — All dine-in establishments in Michigan must keep customers’ names and phone numbers for contact-tracing purposes starting Monday.

The new rule from the governor’s office is supposed to help with contact tracing efforts in the fight against further spreading COVID-19.

It was announced Thursday in a press conference along with other restrictions which went into effect immediately. 

The state said indoor settings, like restaurants, are 20 times more likely to drive new outbreaks when compared to outdoor events. 

“It makes sense (for us) as restaurants where people are taking off their masks and enjoying their time, their food. That’s a point of risk right there,” said Joel Wabeke who owns Early Bird and newly opened pizza shop Quarantino’s in Eastown.

Wabeke says with previous orders, he has had minimal issue enforcing the rules. 

“I think everyone has had their example of somebody who has demanded that they not have to follow the rules that have been set in place to protect all of us, but very few and far between,” said Wabeke.

Monday, restaurants like Yesterdog began rolling out signage for the new mandate. 

“We’re just following all the rules the (state) comes down with because we want to get rid of (COVID-19) as bad as anybody,” said owner Bill Lewis. 

The state says if an employee falls ill or the restaurant learns of a sick customer, they must contact everyone who may have been exposed. 

“I think it’s absolutely important. I think it’s an excellent idea. It’s just one little inconvenience for them. But it’s better than having our nurses and doctors dying or being worked to death in our emergency rooms,” Lewis said.

President of Restaurant Partners Management Jeff Lobdell, who operates 12 restaurants in West Michigan with nearly 500 employees, says the state is picking on dine-in restaurants while seemingly leaving other businesses alone. 

“I think we’ve been vilified to a degree that all these orders are going on sit-down restaurants and not other places. So, it kind of leads the public to question just how safe are you at restaurants, and you’re very safe,” Lobdell said. “I don’t know that restaurants ever did anything to have lost this trust. I think we’re very clean and safe places. We take a lot of pride in what we do. We take pride in our sanitation and our safety.”

Lobdell says the restaurants also don’t like putting their staff in positions where they must act as enforcers of these new rules, which some customers may find invasive, especially with such short notice to prepare. 

“We’re not excited about this new rule coming through without much warning or guidance, but we’re going to comply as best we can. We don’t like that, you know, you have guests that feel it’s intruding on their personal liberties and freedoms and now we’ve got to be the arbitrator of that,” Lobdell said. “We don’t want to do that. We’re here to make people happy. We want to have great dining experiences. We don’t want to have battles with our guests, but we also want to keep people safe. So, we’re going to do the best job we can.”

To help make things easier and more comfortable for their customers, restaurants Lobdell manages, which include Grand Coney, The Red Geranium and Beltline Bar — will place QR codes and their statement of the new rules on tables which will allow patrons to submit their information without verbally telling wait staff potentially sensitive contact info. 

“We need your support. Come to us and visit us. We are cherished community gathering places and we’re open for business and we’re doing things the right way. Come on down and visit restaurants please,” Lobdell said. “We’re a little disappointed that this order comes out and it targets sit down restaurants. It doesn’t target other businesses in the community. We don’t like to be targeted as a non-safe space.”

  

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