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Michigan’s Top Health Official Warns Against Dining Indoors at Restaurants This Winter

“If you have a choice between dining in a restaurant or getting takeout, strongly consider getting takeout” — Dr. Joneigh Khaldun

Two socially distanced tables are set up outside Mink on a sunny afternoon.
Mink in Corktown.
Gerard + Belevender
Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

On Wednesday, October 21, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive and chief deputy for health, held a press conference to address a troubling increase in COVID-19 cases across Michigan. During the press conference, Khaldun touched on dining indoors during the pandemic and urged residents to avoid eating inside of restaurants this fall and winter. “Just because something is permitted, it does not mean it is a good idea to do it,” Khaldun said.

The leading health expert urged Michiganders to be extremely careful about how they behave if they choose to dine indoors including wearing a mask at all times when not physically eating, and limiting chit-chat at the table. Talking during a meal, Khaldun noted, can more easily spread the virus. She also recommended takeout over in-person service. According to Khaldun:

Limit indoor dining with anyone who is not in your household and if you choose to dine indoors, keep your mask on at all times, except when you are actually putting food in your mouth and limit your talking. Talking without a mask on increases the risk of spread. If you have a choice between dining in a restaurant or getting takeout, strongly consider getting takeout.

Currently, under Michigan Department of Health and Human Services epidemic orders and Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules, restaurants and bars are permitted to host customers indoors at 50 percent of normal capacity with social distancing. All customers must wear a mask whenever they’re not seated and may not gather on dance floors or in entryways to wait for a table.

According to data released by the CDC in September, adults diagnosed with COVID-19 were twice as likely to have reported dining at an indoor or outdoor restaurant than were those with negative SARS-CoV-2 test results. Indoor dining in enclosed spaces is known to incur greater risks of airborne droplets transmitting the novel coronavirus, which led many businesses to focus on outdoor service over the summer. However, with the onset of fall and colder weather, many businesses are moving a larger portion of their operations indoors or enclosing outdoor dining areas at a time when cases are surging across the country.

Khaldun’s warnings seem more urgent given the results of a recent informal survey by Eater Detroit that found nearly a quarter of respondents were already willing to eat indoors. Roughly 21 percent of respondents said they didn’t mind eating with people outside of their household or pod in an indoor setting. Nine percent of respondents said they planned to utilize indoor dining this winter, while 64 percent of respondents said they will choose an outdoor dining option this winter rather than moving indoors or switching back to takeout and delivery-only dining.

More than 7,000 people have died in Michigan in 2020 from complications related to COVID-19. A surge in cases could potentially have a detrimental effect on an economy that’s already struggling, if businesses are forced to close again for extended periods. By wearing a mask, washing hands or using hand sanitizer frequently, and avoiding gathering in groups or taking risks like dining indoors, people can help slow the spread of the virus.

Posted by Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday, October 21, 2020

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