During a press conference on Friday, December 18, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer confirmed that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) would once more be extending its epidemic order closing restaurants and bars for indoor dining to control the spread of novel coronavirus.
There is, however, some light at the end of the tunnel, as the state has lifted some restrictions on movie theaters, bowling alleys, casinos, and other indoor spaces where masks can be worn at all times with capacity limits in place. Those businesses must continue to keep concessions closed through the duration of the new order, scheduled to expire Friday, January 15. Whitmer did leave open the possibility that if numbers continue to decline through the New Year, Michigan officials would “seriously consider lifting protocols sooner” than the expiration date.
The original order, issued on Sunday, November 15, was due to expire on Tuesday, December 8, but was eventually extended through Sunday, December 20. At the time of the previous extension, MDHHS director Robert Gordon stated that restaurant and bar dining rooms were likely to be last on the list to resume in-person activities due to the fact that the act of eating and drinking requires removing a mask. The governor has also asked that colleges and universities avoid allowing students to return to campus until at least mid-January.
Despite some of the positive news, Whitmer’s statements were tearful today, as she spoke about Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, who died on Friday morning from complications from COVID-19, and discussed fact that many states including Michigan were not getting the number of vaccine doses originally promised. She further called on the state legislature and congress to pass relief and urged people to stay home and not mix households during the holidays to keep Michigan’s numbers on track.
In addition to the lifting of some restrictions for in-person activities, MDHHS has also issued diagrams of what is permitted for outdoor dining — a portion of the order that been extremely confusing and spotily enforced since the original indoor dining closure took effect on Wednesday, November 18.
The indoor dining order has resulted in heated conflicts between the state and a small minority of business owners that have chosen to ignore safety mandates. A lawsuit filed by the Michigan Restaurant Association demanding that dining rooms reopen was struck down in federal court. Many over those businesses are now facing fines or have had their liquor licenses and permits temporarily suspended for violating epidemic orders and rules put in place by Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA).