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Restaurant Association Wants Michigan Dining Rooms to Reopen on May 29

The proposal lays out a plan for how restaurants could operate with sit-down service during the pandemic

Older customers sit at check tablecloth covered tables below a drop ceiling inside Buddy’s Pizza.
A busy dining room at Buddy’s Pizza in Detroit. The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association wants the governor to allow restaurants to reopen dining rooms by the end of the month.
Michelle and Chris Gerard
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 Friday, the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association (MRLA), a trade group representing food and beverage operators across the state, released a proposal asking Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to end restaurant dining room closures on May 29.

Michigan’s restaurants and bars have been closed for dine-in service since March 16 in an effort to contain the spread of novel coronavirus, though many remain open as essential businesses for carryout, delivery, drive-thru and walk-up window service.

The MRLA’s proposal, titled Roadmap to Reopening, features a step-by-step guide to how restaurant business could potentially reopen and avoid spreading COVID-19. It includes suggestions for sanitizing procedures, monitoring the health of employees, use of personal protective equipment, and social distancing measures. For service in dining rooms it proposes:

  • Social distancing of 6 feet is required for all guests
  • Space all seating areas to maintain social distancing guidelines
  • Mark spacing in lobbies, hostess stands, restrooms and other consumer gathering areas
  • Conduct customer health screening if owner deems necessary
  • Clean every customer contact surface

Gov. Whitmer revealed a more in-depth descriptions of the six phase strategy for Michigan’s economic reengagement on Thursday. Under that plan, Michigan would have to make significant progress in reducing the number of new cases in the state and reported deaths as well as contact tracing and testing before restaurants, bars, schools, and universities could begin reopening for in-building service.

Whitmer did not provide specific dates for these phases, because they’re based on data being monitored by the state. Based on current information, Michigan is now in stage three and can begin reopening some sectors of manufacturing on Monday, May 11.

In a press release, MRLA president and CEO Justin Winslow pointed to other states such as Georgia and Texas that have already begun allowing diners back inside restaurants for sit-down service. “Knowing that half of all states have already reopened restaurant dining in some capacity, we felt the time was right to share our expertise with the Governor Whitmer so that she has every tool she needs to safely reopen restaurants on May 29.” Restaurant owners in Atlanta recently expressed concern over the state’s schedule for reopening the economy, stating that it is it is too soon to be letting customers back into dining rooms.

Reached by Eater, deputy press secretary for the governor’s office Chelsea Lewis confirmed they had received the MRLA’s proposal. “As the governor has said, she will be making decisions based on science and data,” Lewis writes in a statement. “She has brought together leaders in health care, business, labor, and education to develop the MI Safe Start plan to re-engage our economy in a way the protects workers and their families. She will continue to listen to medical experts and put the health and safety of Michiganders first.”

However, these state decisions ignore some data that projects a significant rise in COVID-19 cases in June due to states reopening. A recent report on a restaurant in Guangzhou, China, illustrates the potential dangers of customers dining indoors during the pandemic — even with social distancing in place. The example showed how the virus spread from one sick customer to surrounding tables due to air conditioning.

The governor has been placed under more pressure in recent weeks to allow people to return to work. Republican state legislators filed a lawsuit against Whitmer this week over the issue of whether she has the authority to extend the state of emergency without the legislature’s approval. Attorney General Dana Nessel and a judge in a separate case have both backed the governor on this issue, citing a 1945 state law.

Roadmap to Reopening

Gov. Whitmer Reissues Michigan Executive Order Closing Restaurants and Bars for Dine-In Service [ED]
Gov. Whitmer Extends Michigan Stay-At-Home Order, Outlines Plan for Returning to Work [ED]
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