Confirming what many already suspected, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer confirmed on Monday, December 7, that the state’s epidemic order closing down indoor dining is being extended 12 additional days. During the briefing, director Robert Gordon of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MHHS) indicated that restaurants and bars were unlikely to be able to return to indoor service anytime soon.
The extension of the epidemic order takes effect at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, December 9, shortly after the previous order expires and lasts through Sunday, December 20. The restrictions are virtually identical with the exception allowing some forms of career and technical training to resume.
An FAQ issued with the new order also provided a slightly different definition of “indoor dining” to clarify parameters for outdoor seating spaces. Under the order, indoor spaces are structures that are “fully or partially enclosed on the top and fully or partially enclosed on two or more contiguous sides; or if fully or partially enclosed on two non-contiguous sides, any part of that space that is more than 8 feet from an open side is indoors.”
Whitmer and representatives from MDHHS stated during the press conference that the extension was necessary in order to continue fighting the pandemic. “Our progress is fragile and we cannot up yet let,” Whitmer said during the briefing, pointing to the extremely high death rates across the state and the possibility that hospitalizations related to Thanksgiving gatherings could spike over the next few days. “We need more time to measure the numbers and ensure that our trend helps the hospitals so that they can stabilize,” she said.
During the briefing Whitmer, Gordon, and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun outlined three key indicators they were looking at to make decisions about reopening: The share of hospital beds taken up by COVID-19 patients should be flat or declining, the COVID-19 case rates must be declining, and percent positivity (the proportion of positive tests) must be declining. Gordon and Khaldun noted that hospitalizations and case rates were either flattening or declining, but that percent positivity was still increasing — not a good sign.
In regards to when partially or closed businesses might be able to resume some sort of service, Whitmer said, “We won’t lift all of our protocols at once. We will do it in a measured way.”
Gordon added that the first priority was allowing high schools to reopen followed by indoor venues where masks can be worn like “movie theaters, bowling alleys, and casinos,” provided that their concessions are closed to prevent people from eating and drinking indoors. Gordon suggested that restaurants and bars reopening for inside service would likely be last to return, due to the nature of how COVID-19 spreads.
Whitmer continued to urge state lawmakers and the U.S. Congress to act quickly to pass relief measures for workers impacted by necessary COVID-19 mitigation measures and warned against families gathering for holiday celebrations.
Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify the language around indoor dining and what qualifies under the revised order.