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Amid Surge in COVID-19 Cases, Michigan Health Department Revises Rules for Bars and Restaurants

Restaurants and bars must now record customer information for contact tracing, among other new restrictions on dine-in seating

Gloved hands stack a burger with corned beef and cheese on a bun. Stock Detroit
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.

As the Michigan and surrounding states barrel into fall and a growing surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) revised its epidemic orders on Thursday, October 29 regarding social gatherings and restaurant and bar operations. As part of the order, MDHHS also moved the Traverse City region back to phase four.

Indoor gatherings are a particular focus of the new order, with health officials citing evidence that indoor settings are as much as 20 times likelier to drive outbreaks as ones held outdoors.

In a first for the state of Michigan, restaurant, bars, and social events outside private homes must now take down the names and phone numbers, as well as the date and time of the visit, of every guest to assist with contact tracing in the event of an outbreak. Bars and restaurants must also restrict groups to six people or less per table in addition to the other capacity and social distancing requirements already in place. The state says that as of Thursday that there are 12 known, active outbreaks associated with restaurants and bars in Michigan this week with “clusters up to 12 cases.”

There are at least 34 outbreaks in Michigan that are currently tied social events and large scale gatherings such as trips with families and friends, church services, bridal showers and weddings, funerals, and bowling parties, and outings at social clubs, according to the health department. As a result, non-residential gatherings where there’s no fixed seating are now limited to hosting no more than 50 people with no more than 20 people per 1,000 square feet in each occupied room. Spaces with fixed seating are also limited to six people per table, just like restaurants and bars.

Every part of the new orders take effect immediately, with the exception of changes to rules regarding collecting information for contact tracing. Those orders go into effect on Monday, November 2, giving businesses a few days to come up with a system to comply.

Violations of the new epidemic orders could result in a civil fine up to $1,000 and may also be treated as a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than six months or a fine of not more than $200, or both. In addition, failure to comply could also put a business or individuals license in jeopardy and could result in additional action from the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA). To report violations, visit the state’s directory. For general failures to wear a mask or physical distance, people should reach out to local law enforcement only through non-emergency lines.

Last week, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS, strongly warned against dining indoors during a press conference, and urged anyone dining out to wear a mask when not putting food or drink in their mouths.

So far, MDHHS hasn’t taken more drastic measures to limit outdoor dining, though other surrounding states and cities like Chicago are beginning to place more stringent limits on dine-in service.

October 29 MDHHS Order

October 29 Epidemic Michigan Order Factsheet

Tracking COVID-19 Outbreaks in Michigan’s Food Industry [ED]
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What Are Michigan’s COVID-19 Rules for Restaurants and Bars Right Now? [ED]
How Coronavirus Is Impacting the Detroit Food and Beverage Industry [ED]