LANSING (WJRT) (5/18/2020) - Bars, restaurants and offices in Northern Michigan will be allowed to reopen dining facilities partially on Friday in time for Memorial Day weekend.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Monday that the Upper Peninsula and the Traverse City areas, which comprise coronavirus recovery regions 6 and 8, have lower rates of the illness so they are moving up a level on the recovery plan.
Those two regions only are moving to Phase 4 -- the Improving phase -- on Whitmer's six-part economic recovery ranking. The remainder of Michigan will remain at Phase 3, meaning bars and restaurants must remain closed to indoor dining.
“This is a big step and it’s right before the holiday weekend,” Whitmer said.
The bars, restaurants and offices reopening in Northern Michigan still must abide by limits on seating to promote social distancing. Local municipalities are allowed to enact tougher restrictions than Whitmer's looser orders.
She hopes to announce more businesses can reopen in more regions around Michigan later this week.
All businesses that reopen must provide training to workers on infection control practices, use of personal protective equipment and how to notify employers when they are diagnosed or get symptoms of coronavirus.
Employers also must provide all employees with personal protective equipment and make employees social distance as much as possible.
Traverse City Mayor Jim Carruthers said Northern Michigan is ready to welcome back visitors. However, he asked residents and visitors to continue following guidelines, including social distancing and wearing masks while out in public.
"We need to make sure we protect the safety and welfare of our citizens,” Carruthers said.
Justin Winslow, president of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, is mindful that bars, restaurants, businesses and visitors to Northern Michigan this weekend will set an example for the rest of the state to reopen later this year.
“Restaurants in the U.P. and northern Michigan understand that with their opportunity comes an extraordinary responsibility to operate in a manner that ensures the safety of their guests and their employees," he said. "I believe they are up to the challenge.”
He pointed out that small towns in Northern Michigan have limited resources for treating coronavirus patients and responding to emergencies compared to larger urban areas around the state.
“We welcome you to come. We want you to be safe and we want to protect you here,” Carruthers said.
Traverse City, which has canceled most of its summer festivals due to coronavirus, is considering more changes to help businesses and promote social distancing among visitors. Those include closing Front Street to vehicle traffic to let pedestrians and patrons spread out more.