Governor’s COVID-19 update disappoints hospitality industry

Bay Area Chamber leader says data shows Michigan should loosen restrictions
Published: Feb. 17, 2021 at 6:13 PM EST
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SAGINAW COUNTY, Mich. (WJRT) - Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gave an update on the state’s COVID-19 recovery efforts Wednesday afternoon.

The business owners and employees in the hospitality industry, which includes restaurants, came away disappointed. They were hoping for some COVID-19 restriction relief, but didn’t get any sign the governor is moving in that direction.

“It’s maddening quite frankly,” said Al Zehnder of Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth.

Restaurants in Michigan have been open for indoor dining at 25% capacity for two weeks now. That’s after indoor dining was prohibited in restaurants statewide for two and a half months.

The state’s coronavirus case numbers continue to go down, as do the positivity rate and COVID-19 hospitalizations. So Zehnder was hoping Whitmer would announce an easing of dining restrictions, maybe allowing 50% capacity, but that didn’t happen.

“As an industry on the water parks side and on the restaurant side, the hospitality industry is abundantly confused,” Zehnder said.

Zehnder’s Splash Village pools are open, but its popular rides and slides are not. Water parks and night clubs remain the only Michigan businesses closed entirely under a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services epidemic order.

“There is no scientific evidence that water parks should be closed, and if you look at our neighboring states they are open,” Zehnder said.

Ryan Tarrant, the president and CEO of the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, said the 25% capacity restriction for restaurants continues damaging the industry hit hard during the coronavirus pandemic over the past year.

Tarrant cites recent COVID-19 data from neighboring states as evidence that its time Michigan loosens restrictions. While Michigan still has better rankings overall when it comes to combatting coronavirus, Ohio for example is on par with its neighbor to the north in recent weeks.

“When you look at their trend lines as far as the decrease in cases or positivity rate, those are pretty similar to what Michigan’s are, even though they have been less restrictive,” Tarrant said.

He said the state has to become more transparent on how it’s imposing its hospitality restrictions and give businesses an idea on what it will take to expand capacity.

“We don’t know what those numbers are to get back to 50% or to 75%,” Tarrant said.

Whitmer gave no clear indication of when the state would roll back any restaurant restrictions. Those restrictions are in place until March 29.

“I’m just curious as to what science Michigan is following and what science Ohio is following that is different that allows them to operate in a different way,” Zehnder said.

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