Whitmer extends indoor dining ban and other wide-ranging stay-at-home measures

Whitmer extends indoor dining ban and other wide-ranging stay-at-home measures

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Dec. 7 the extension of Michigan’s statewide stay-at-home order – originally billed as a three-week “pause” – further hitting restaurants by continuing the statewide ban on in-person dining.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Dec. 7 the extension of the statewide stay-at-home restrictions, originally billed as a three-week “pause.” The 12-day extension will continue the restrictions on indoor dining and other venues put into place Nov. 18 by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, or MDHHS, until Dec. 20.

Whitmer also hinted that the extension may not be the last of harsh statewide restrictions, calling for a “cautious re-engagement” following the 12-day period.Some Michigan restaurant owners teetering on the brink have begun to weigh the pros and cons of reopening as news of the possible extension to the order began to spread. “It’s not a statement that I’m principally defying the governor… my motivation is out of survival for my family and employees,” Spangler’s Family Restaurant owner Mitch Spangler said.

“I’m already going broke anyway, right. What’s the difference?” Dave Morris of D&R’s Daily Grind Café added.

The extended order continues to halt in-person dining at bars and restaurants, as well as in-person learning at high schools and colleges. Movie theaters, casinos, ice skating rinks and workplaces where work can be done from home, among other gathering places, are also subject to this order.

Small outdoor gatherings will continue to be limited to 25 people, but preschool through 8th grade in-person learning, retail shops, gyms, hair salons and funerals – also limited to 25 people – will continue to stay open and operational.When news of the original order was announced in mid-November, many restaurant and bar owners were in “shock and despair.”

Restaurants and bars believe they are being treated unfairly under the order, singled out despite already taking on myriad precautions and restrictions to continue to operate safely. Meanwhile, other businesses, like gyms and retail shops, are allowed to stay open.

“We’re wearing masks. We’re socially distanced. We’re at 50 percent capacity… doing just enough to survive and keep people employed,” said Scott Ellis, CEO of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, or MRLA, in reaction to the Nov. 18 order. “Our industry has been devastated and this is just another nail in the coffin for many businesses.”

Meanwhile, Whitmer remarked Dec. 7 that reopening restaurants and bars poses and unique challenge. Robert Gordon, the director of the MDHHS defended the comments, saying that the “science on eating and drinking inside is settled.”

Moreover, Michigan businesses have been the hardest hit in the Unites States by statewide COVID-19 measures, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic survey. Nearly one-third of businesses in Michigan under Whitmer’s COVID-19 orders, while the national average is less than 20%.

According to Michigan contact tracing data, restaurants accounted for roughly 4% of total outbreaks statewide in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 18 order. “This industry can’t continue to be scapegoated in a way that is not supported by the data,” said Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the MRLA.

“A lot of people believe this is going to be substantially longer than three weeks,” Winslow predicted in November. “Six to eight is what they’re preparing for, maybe longer.”

Heirloom Hospitality president Jeremy Sasson also warned of the devastating economic consequences new heavy-handed restrictions will have on the hospitality industry. “Now, when there is no parachute, there is no support system … we are now being asked to lay down and play dead for as long as it may need to be.”

Both Ellis and Winslow believe the new round of restrictions could mean that as many as 40% restaurants and bars may close permanently – many of who were already on the edge following the spring lock down.

Sasson’s own payroll has dwindled to only seven employees today, from 350 before the pandemic, he told the Detroit News. “I don’t have answers for them as to how they’re going to feed their families, how they’re going to support themselves and pay their bills.”

The Michigan Supreme Court declared Whitmer’s extension of emergency powers unconstitutional Oct. 2. The court ruled Whitmer could not continue to declare new disasters to extend her emergency executive powers beyond the 28-day limit set by the Emergency Management Act of 1976 – and would instead need to work with the Michigan Legislature on new restrictions and extensions.

In place of executive orders, however, Whitmer has turned to epidemic orders from the MDHHS to take action on COVID-19 – instead of working with the state legislature on public health measures.

An extension of the indoor dining ban will almost certainly deepen widespread economic damage – leading to more permanent closures and job losses across the industry.

Rather than continuing to impose heavy-handed restrictions through agency rulemaking nine months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Whitmer should collaborate with the small business community and other stakeholders on measures that allow them to continue earning a livelihood while maintaining public health precautions.

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