Less than a day after a statewide epidemic order went into effect requiring all restaurants and bars across the state of Michigan to begin collecting customers’ contact information, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has already stepped back some of its requirements.
Under the new rule, which went into effect on Monday, November 2, restaurants and bars were required to record the names, phone numbers, and the date and times of visits for every dine-in customer to aid in contact tracing as COVID-19 cases and outbreaks reached new highs across the state. Home and email addresses aren’t required. In spite of the fact that taking down a name and number is a basic requirement for making a reservation and was already required at businesses like hair salons and tattoo parlors, the abrupt rule change faced pushback. Some restaurant owners that feared the mandate would drive away business, increase labor costs, and make work even more difficult for service staff.
On Tuesday, November 3, seemingly in response to confusion over how to implement the requirements, MDHHS released more specific guidelines interpreting the new requirements. Buried in the lengthy Q&A, the state moved from entirely denying customers entry to a business if they refuse to provide contact information to recommending that the establishment deny entry. Businesses, however, are still required to ask for the information, though they don’t have to do any verification such as requesting an ID. Likewise, the state is allowing restaurants and event organizers to collect information from one person per seated group — though the agency strongly encourages businesses to collect names and numbers from every person at the table.
The state now recommends that businesses collect and keep this information on file for 28 days (the length of two COVID-19 incubation periods) before destroying it, in the event that there’s a case associated with the business. By keeping that information, restaurants and bars are helping expedite the contact tracing processes, leading to a quicker response and fewer people being exposed to the novel coronavirus.
While rule clarifications should ease some confusion, though they may not necessarily make businesses’ jobs much easier in the coming weeks. Michigan is already on a path to a new surge, one that’s already struck other cities and resulted in new rounds of restrictions and lockdowns. Last week, the state recorded 27 new and ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at restaurants and bars, a significant increase over the week prior when only 12 outbreaks were reported for the industry.
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