Whitmer Restaurants

Whitmer

LANSING — Michigan restaurants on Wednesday proposed tying indoor capacity limits to the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive, contending that clear guideposts would help the hospitality industry navigate the pandemic.

Bars and restaurants, which reopened for indoor dining and drinking on Feb 1. after a 21/2-month ban, have a 10 p.m. curfew and are limited to 25 percent occupancy, up to a maximum of 100 patrons, through March 29 under a state health order supported by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. She has opposed linking coronavirus metrics to the automatic loosening or tightening of restrictions.

The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association suggested food service and event space guidelines for restaurants, hotels and banquet halls, and urged that hospitality workers be included in the ongoing 1B phase of vaccinations.

If the state’s seven-day average positivity rate – now 3.9 percent and on the decline over the past five weeks – fell below 3 percent, there would be “no limitations.” If the rate was between 3 and 7 percent, restaurants could operate at 50 percent indoor capacity without a curfew. Indoor events would be capped at 250 people.

If the positivity rate was higher, restrictions would be tightened. Indoor food service would shut down if the rate reached 15 percent or above.

“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,” said Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the industry group. “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 Democratic governor did not say if she supports the plan, but she has opposed Republican lawmakers’ calls for automatically tying economic reopening steps to changing case trends instead of favoring a more cautious approach.

“We will always take that input and make it a part of the conversation,” she said of the industry’s proposal. “We’re also going to, though, stay very clearly focused on the numbers and the data and monitor where we are. Michigan is in a stronger position than most other states in the nation right now because the pause worked. It’s because we’re being very thoughtful about incrementally reengaging sectors of our economy that just inherently pose a higher risk.”

She renewed her push for the GOP-controlled Legislature to approve billions in federal and state pandemic spending to boost funds for K-12 schools, vaccine distribution and expanded COVID-19 testing, tracing and lab capacity. The House passed a smaller plan nearly two weeks ago and the Senate is expected to vote on one next week.

“It’s time that we figuratively get in the room and negotiate the details and get it done,” said Whitmer. She noted that her administration and legislators in December approved $55 million in grants that went to nearly 6,000 small businesses affected by the health order that went into effect on Nov. 18.

The governor and lawmakers have proposed additional business aid in the next round of relief funding.

The state said Wednesday that more than 1.6 million coronavirus vaccines had been administered, covering nearly 14 percent of residents ages 16 and older. About 514,000 had received both doses. Roughly 35 percent of people 75 and up had received at least one dose, said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive.

Earlier this week, the state Department of Health and Human Service said mortuary service workers can be vaccinated – joining people 65 and older, health workers, teachers, child care staff and others. Starting March 1, about 79,000 frontline workers in food processing and agricultural settings will be eligible.

Grocery store and restaurant workers do not fall within the definition of food processing and agricultural workers at this time.

Michigan had 157, or 12 percent, of the country’s nearly 1,300 confirmed cases of a new, more contagious coronavirus variant that was first identified in England. Ninety were found in a state prison in Ionia. The variant had been detected in residents in 12 counties.

“It’s very important that everyone wear masks,” said Sarah Lyon-Callo, director of the state’s Bureau of Epidemiology and Population Health. “This is how we’re going to be able to prevent the variants like B.1.1.7 from causing our case rates to increase again.”

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