Michigan restaurants and bars can reopen for indoor dining at 25% capacity but with a 10 p.m. curfew starting Feb. 1, and concessions can resume at casinos, movie theaters and stadiums, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Friday.
The state health department's coronavirus restrictions were loosened again amid a continued drop in cases and hospitalizations. They will be effective for three weeks, through Feb. 21.
The Democratic governor announced last week that restaurants would likely be able to serve dine-in customers beginning Feb. 1 after a two-and-a-half month ban.
“While we must remain vigilant and cautious, we can lift some protocols that were previously in place,” she said. “I know this pandemic has hurt our restaurant owners, our restaurant workers and all of their families. I want to thank those that made incredible sacrifices and did their part.”
Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon's order limits capacity to 25% — lower than the 50% ceiling that was in effect from June to November — with a maximum of 100 people. Bars and restaurants must close by 10 p.m. and collect customers' contact information for tracing purposes.
Food establishments can voluntarily take part in a new state ventilation-inspection program, through which they would be certified as optimizing airflow. Whitmer has asked the Republican-led Legislature to authorize funding to reimburse restaurants that participate.
The order also loosens gathering restrictions so two families can go to the movies or bowl together; raises the capacity cutoff at stadiums with more than 10,000 seats to 500, from 250; and authorizes personal-care services where a mask must be removed such as facials. Nightclubs and indoor water parks remain closed, and a prohibition on contact sports stays in effect unless there is a rigorous testing regimen as in pro sports and some college leagues.
The restaurant industry, which has long criticized the full indoor dining ban, welcomed the announcement as good but overdue news.
“It is now time for this administration to move aggressively towards a more comprehensive reintegration strategy, which includes prioritizing vaccination for the broader hospitality industry and establishing clear metrics for phased reopening to 100% capacity of indoor dining,” said Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association.
Michigan has lost nearly 3,000 restaurants in a year and 200,000 hospitality workers have lost their jobs, he said.
Whitmer said she hopes to raise capacity restrictions so establishments can serve more people, if the virus is kept in check, but cautioned that a more contagious coronavirus variant from Britain is in Michigan.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive, reiterated that being indoors without a mask is riskier.
“The safest thing to do is to not eat inside a restaurant,” she said, especially if someone is elderly, has an underlying medical condition or lives with someone who is elderly or has underlying conditions. “But we still want you to order from them, though. You can support them with takeout, delivery or dining outdoors.”
Michigan's seven-day case average is 2,370, well down from a peak of 8,344 seven weeks ago, according to Johns Hopkins University. The COVID Tracking Project says the 6.2% positivity rate has dropped from 13.7% over the same period. About 1,900 people are hospitalized with COVID-19-related symptoms, half what it was in mid-December.
The state’s per-capita case rate over the past two weeks is among the lowest in the country.
“Our action saved our hospital systems from getting overwhelmed. Our action saved lives,” Whitmer said.