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Michigan restaurant group proposes new plan for easing indoor dining limits

Michigan bars and restaurants have been closed for dine in service since November 18.
Michigan bars and restaurants have been closed for dine in service since November 18.(WJRT)
Published: Feb. 17, 2021 at 1:26 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) - A group representing Michigan restaurants proposed a new plan Wednesday for allowing restrictions on indoor dining to ease.

The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association wants to tie occupancy limits for eateries and event venues to the state’s percentage of positive COVID-19 diagnostic tests. Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the association, said the plan involves clear data that is easy to understand.

“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,” he said. “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.”

If the plan was enacted, restaurants could increase their indoor dining capacity from 25% up to 50% and drop a 10 p.m. curfew immediately based on Michigan’s current percentage of positive COVID-19 tests around 4%. The proposal calls for eliminating all restrictions on restaurants if the positive test percentage drops below 3%.

Under the association’s plan, indoor dining would return to a 25% capacity limit if the positive test rate reaches 10% again and dine-in service would close entirely if the percentage increases above 15%.

Changes to restaurant restrictions would come based on changes in the seven-day average percentage of positive COVID-19 tests over a seven to 14-day period reported on the MI Safe Start map.

The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association also continued calls for speeding up COVID-19 vaccines for restaurant and hospitality workers. Currently, those workers are part of Phase 2 -- the final part of Michigan’s vaccine plan -- but the association wants them classified as “other essential frontline workers” in Phase 1B.

If the change is approved, restaurant and hotel workers would be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine right away, because Michigan currently is distributing the vaccine to Phase 1B.

“There is no faster way to build back our restaurants and hotels than through the systematic, expedited vaccination of Michigan’s hospitality industry,” said Winslow. “Vaccination will provide safety to frontline workers, allow for the stable reintegration of Michigan’s second largest employer and restore public confidence that they may safely dine and travel once again.”

During a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she appreciates the input from the association. But she said Michigan’s COVID-19 restrictions will continue to be based on science and data surrounding the illness.

Whitmer instead called the Michigan Legislature to approve spending $5 billion worth of federal COVID-19 relief funding earmarked for the state quickly. Some of that money would help restaurants, hotels and other small businesses.

“I will always take input, but what we really need right now is partnership,” Whitmer said.

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