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Restaurants, stores happy for COVID-19 capacity increase, but hoping for more

Published: Mar. 2, 2021 at 7:06 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) - A new state health department order set to begin Friday will double the legal capacity at bars and restaurants from 25% to 50%.

The announcement on Tuesday came as Michigan continues to see COVID-19 positivity rates and hospitalizations decline.

For beleaguered restaurants, the increase in indoor dining certainly been a long time coming. Eateries like Starlite Diner in Burton have certainly faced a number of challenges and owner Jason Hester is glad things are moving in a positive direction.

”There’s hopefully going to be more people back in the workforce, more customers out and about and people with a better feeling of safety,” he said. “We’re taking the right precautions. That’s a positive step for us. We need something in our industry to move forward.”

Restaurants have been limited to 25% capacity for indoor dining since they reopened on Feb. 1. That means oftentimes people are waiting at restaurants where waits typically don’t happen.

Now the 50 percent capacity will be for up to 100 people. However, tables must still be 6 feet a part with a total of six people per table. The 10 p.m. curfew for restaurants to close in place since Feb. 1 will extend to 11 p.m. Friday.

Hester is hopeful the eased restrictions are the beginning of the end. He as a business owner has been through a lot and so have his customers, but they’ve been behind him every step of the way.

“We’ve been very fortunate with how customers have responded to the whole thing, whether it’s wearing masks, signing in, or waiting for an available table,” Hester said. “For the most part, people have shown great restraint and great patience.”

The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association issued a statement Tuesday expressing the organizations gratefulness to increase the number of customers that businesses can serve. But the association is not happy about the six-week term of the new state epidemic order, which lasts until April 19.

“The six-week duration of this order is concerning and significantly too long to adapt to rapidly changing metrics around this virus,” said association President and CEO Justin Winslow.

He hopes the loosening restrictions represent a “paradigm shift” from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to accept that the state’s most vulnerable populations are protected against COVID-19 and businesses should be allowed to drop restrictions.

“While we are disappointed about the length of the order given the fragile state of the hospitality industry and improving outcomes, we are committed to working toward collaborative and consistent – emphasis on consistent – progress towards the full reintegration of the industry as Michigan moves more fully into a new phase of this pandemic,” Winslow said.

Retail stores in Michigan also will benefit from expanded capacity in Tuesday’s new order. The Michigan Retailers Association is pleased with the loosened restrictions, but won’t be fully satisfied until all remaining limits on stores are dropped.

“This is a good step towards reopening our economy, but until we are at 100% capacity, retailers will continue to struggle,” said William Hallan, president and CEO of the Michigan Retailers Association. “We appreciate the confidence given to retailers who have worked consistently to ensure the safety and health of customers and employees.”

He pointed out that the increased store capacity will help pharmacies administering the COVID-19 vaccine.

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