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Gov. Whitmer Unsure Whether Michigan’s Ban on Indoor Dining Will Extend Past January 15

“We know that the pause is working if you look at where our numbers are,” the governor said at a Friday COVID-19 press conference

Three plastic domes outside of Detroit Fleat.
Some forms of outdoor dining are permitted under the most recent epidemic order.
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.

In a press conference on Friday, January 8, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed questions from the media regarding whether the Michigan restaurant industry might expect to see reduced regulations on indoor dining after Friday, January 15.

In her statements, the governor acknowledge that the state’s “pause” on indoor dining, implemented on Wednesday, November 18, is having the desired effect on cases across Michigan of reducing community spread and the number of COVID-19 patients occupying hospital beds. However, she stopped short of affirming that the state would lift some restrictions within the next week, noting that a recent increase in post-holiday cases might indicate that family gatherings reversed the state’s progress. She added that a new virus variant, which early studies show spreads more rapidly than previous novel coronavirus strains, may also complicate reopening plans.

“What we’ve seen the studies show is that restaurants and bars are places where we see many outbreaks,” countering an interpretation that the data shows restaurants and bars as having fewer outbreaks than schools in the fall. She also added that restaurants and bars have posed challenges for contact tracers because the serve such a high-volume of people and only began collecting contact information a week prior to the shutdown. “Our tracing capabilities are underwhelming on that front, so I think that’s part of the data issue that we haven’t seen translate and that’s why we’ve continued the policy.”

Since closing restaurants and bars for indoor service and some forms of outdoor service, number across the state have steadily declined since the November 15 epidemic order took effect:

I think that that’s a hard thing for us to communicate regularly when we know the economic pain and the personal sacrifice so many have made throughout this. The fact of the matter is the studies show that that [gathering places where masks are removed are] where we have seen the highest risk.

Our numbers are better than most other states in our region, [and] stronger than many states in the nation, but this variant is giving us pause and we want to watch and make sure that we’ve got as many days worth of data post-holiday so we recognize whether or not this blip around the holidays is a trend or if it’s just that — a blip.

I’m as eager as anyone to get our restaurants open for in-person dining but we’ve got to make sure that it’s safe to do so and there’s some encouraging signs but we have to be really smart and we’re going to continue to watch the data.

During the press conference, Gov. Whitmer announced that educators in K-12 school districts would be next in line to receive vaccines with the hope of getting more kids back to in-person learning by Monday, March 1.

The current executive order banning indoor dining has been extended through January 15, Some restrictions on in-person learning and public places such as casinos were lifted in December — provided no one on the premises eats or drinks. Multiple bars and restaurants across the state have faced fines and license suspensions for unlawfully opening during the pause.

Michigan Extends Indoor Dining Closure Through January 15 [ED]
What Are Michigan’s COVID-19 Rules for Restaurants and Bars Right Now? [ED]
Tracking COVID-19 Outbreaks in Michigan’s Food Industry [ED]