As reports flowed in of large gatherings moving forward ahead of St. Patrick’s Day, the Michigan state attorney general’s office held a press conference on Sunday calling on business owners to “act responsibly” and observe capacity rules to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer enacted an emergency order banning gatherings of 250 people or more on March 13 to enforce “social distancing” across the state. Meanwhile, Oakland and Ingham counties are in the process of enacting rules to reduce capacity at restaurants, bars, and other venues by 50 percent.
Attorney General Dana Nessel told attendees that the state would be enforcing rules on capacity and that business owners would be facing misdemeanors and the possibility of losing their liquor license if they did not heed the warnings. Patrons will not be cited. “I think what bars and restaurants have to appreciate is that it’s much better for them to stay open right now… than to be closed down for an indefinite period of time for not following the order,” Nessel said.
Michigan AG Dana Nessel Outlines Enforcement of COVID19 Executive OrdersPosted by Michigan Department of Attorney General on Sunday, March 15, 2020
While the statewide rule only requires disbanding groups of 250 or more at this time, state lawmakers and representatives for the service industry “urge people to consider going further,” Linda Vail, health officer for Ingham county said during the briefing. “One-size does not fit all in establishments,” she said. “An establishment with a capacity of 250 is still crowded with a capacity of 250.”
Oakland County executive Dave Coulter reiterated that message. “The number isn’t as magical as the distance and the size,” of the establishment, Coulter said at the press conference. The 50 percent reduction of capacity “may seem drastic to some folks,” he said, but warned that it still might not be enough. “We’re going to continue to monitor that and may take even more drastic measures.”
Justin Winslow, president of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association was also present at the event to lend support to the new measures. “It is rare for me on this issue to find myself advocating for this sort of action,” Winslow said. “We have strongly recommended to all of our members to heed the governor’s executive order.” Restaurant owners care about their workforce and their guests and are doing their best to offer service through carryout and delivery, he said.
Scott Ellis of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association also took the mic to implore business owners to take appropriate action. “Bars and restaurants are known as gathering places, so it will already be a tough year [economically],” he said. By reducing capacity and disbanding large events, the state and hospitality industries “hope to avoid a complete shutdown” of business as has been the case in countries like Italy. “Many face irrecoverable losses if we don’t get this under control,” he said, but a shutdown could “cripple Michigan’s hospitality industry.”
In addition to reiterating the rules regarding public gatherings, Nessel also took time to address reports of price gouging. According to an Michigan executive order, it is now illegal to resell a product for a price that is “grossly in excess of the price” for which it was originally purchased. Likewise businesses could face a criminal misdemeanor if they’re found charging 20 percent more for items than they charged on March 9 — unless the business owner can prove that the price increase is related to the cost of bringing the item to market.
Nessel also encouraged diners to continue patronizing restaurants through carryout and delivery and to tip. “Please remember they need to pay their rent. They need to pay their utilities,” she said of restaurant workers. “Please remember they you need to tip them the same way you would if you were dining in.”
Oakland County’s new rules on reduced capacity will take effect on Monday, March 16.