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Michigan Restaurant Association Wants to Increase Indoor Dining Capacity

As the state extends dine-in capacity limits through March 29, Michigan’s restaurant association proposes a plan that ties capacity limits to the seven-day average positivity rate

Restaurant in Pennsylvania Tries To Adapt To More Stringent Requirements To Prevent Spread Of COVID-19 Photo by Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

The state just extended a pandemic-related order through March 29 restricting indoor dining capacity and continuing the 10 p.m. closing curfew for Michigan restaurants and bars. Under the current order, restaurants and bars may reopen at 25 percent capacity with a cap at 100 people. The original order was set to expire on February 21.

However, the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association (MRLA) has come up with its own reopening proposal for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to consider that ties indoor capacity limits to COVID-19 positivity rates.

The MRLA’s proposal suggests a set of guideposts for local and state officials to follow in order to reopen restaurants and bars with tiered capacity limits based on Michigan’s seven-day average positivity rate.

According to the proposed plan from the MRLA, if the positivity rate is between 3 percent and 7 percent, restaurants and bars could reopen at 50-percent indoor capacity with no curfew. A positivity rate below 3 percent would allow indoor dining to resume with no capacity limits in place. In other words, the higher the positivity rate in the state, the tighter the restrictions.

The current positivity rate sits at 3.5 percent statewide, according the MDHHS dashboard.

“We have long advocated the need for a more comprehensive strategy for the economic reintegration of our restaurants, banquet centers and entertainment venues in Michigan,” Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the MRLA says in a press release. “Through this plan, we are putting our metrics where our mouth is and hope it proves a useful tool to elected leaders as we enter a new phase of the pandemic.”

The MRLA plan, however, doesn’t take into account the CDC listing indoor dining among the highest risk activities for the potential spread of the virus, especially when indoor seating capacity isn’t reduced. Without capacity limits in place, the proposed plan also leaves restaurant and bar employees at further risk for contracting COVID-19 while on the job. Most restaurant and bar employees in Michigan, and across the country, have yet to be vaccinated.

Part of the MRLA proposal does ask the state to prioritize vaccine distribution for the industry’s workforce, categorizing this group as “other essential frontline workers” and including them in the current 1B vaccine category. As it stands, restaurant and bar employees are listed as category 1C, which becomes eligible to receive the vaccine in May and June.

On Monday, MDHHS and the governor announced that an estimated 79,000 food processing and agricultural workers will now be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine starting March 1. Earlier this month, food service workers living or working in Detroit and in Oakland County could begin scheduling appointments to receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

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