Michigan to limit restaurant crowds; Ohio, Illinois go take-out, delivery only

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News

As Michigan officials warned bars and restaurants to limit occupancy or face closure Sunday, the governors of Ohio and Illinois announced a more drastic shutdown of all food establishments in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine at a coronavirus news conference Saturday, March 14, 2020 at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus.

Ohio's Gov. Mike DeWine announced via Twitter that the state would be closing bars and restaurants at 9 p.m. Sunday, allowing them only to stay open for carry-out and delivery. 

"Every day we delay, more people will die," DeWine tweeted Sunday afternoon. "If we do not act and get some distance between people, our healthcare system in #Ohio will not hold up."

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced all restaurants and bars in the state will be closed from Monday night through the end of the month, but will remain open for take-out. 

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, along with elected and health officials give their daily update to Novel Coronavirus in Illinois, Friday, March 13, 2020.

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered a ban Friday on all gatherings of more than 250 people. Oakland and Ingham counties have taken a step further, ordering occupancy levels in most food establishments cut in half.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on Sunday promised to crack down on businesses that violate crowd size order, particularly for St. Patrick's Day on Tuesday.

Nessel said Sunday that her office would coordinate the prosecution of violations of that order, which is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine. Violations also could result in the loss of a business' liquor license. 

"No one wants a shutdown of the food and beverage industry but also no one wants the coronavirus, right?" Nessel said. "That’s why we are taking these important measures."

"We are very hopeful they are going to do the right thing."

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel

But others in the medical field are calling for stricter regulations, including Detroit Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate. He tweeted Sunday that restaurants should be restricted to carry-out only.

"If we’re serious about #socialdistancing: Local officials should ban ALL eat-in options at restaurants, eateries, and bars. All orders for food requiring preparation should be placed by phone or online and there should be no waiting allowed inside," El-Sayed tweeted. 

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the Flint pediatrician whose research helped expose the Flint water crisis, also pushed for more action from government officials Saturday on Twitter.

"This is not an extension of spring break. Young people are vectors. Time to close bars, restaurants, malls, movies, etc.," Hanna-Attisha tweeted. 

Nessel said she's urged local university leaders to communicate with college students to take caution, particularly in going out to bars on St. Patrick's Day.  

"Your actions today affect the futures of your friends and your family members tomorrow," Nessel said. "The life that you save could be your own or could be the life of someone you love."

Justin Winslow, president of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association, which represents 18,000 restaurants and hotels in the state, said at Sunday's press conference that his members realize the need for action. Many are already voluntarily limiting occupancy to half of limits, as Ingham and Oakland counties have done, he said.  

"They know it is necessary," Winslow said. “We are in a once in a multi-generational pandemic. The threat is serious enough that it is critical for all of us to operate with an abundance of concern, care and caution."

On Sunday, Whitmer also announced that she signed an order temporarily restricting excessive pricing of consumer goods. The rules start at 9 a.m. Monday and will remain until 11:59 p.m. April 13. 

Businesses can't resell a product that is "grossly in excess of the purchase price of the product" and the order specifically restricts prices that are 20 percent higher than what was charged March 9, unless the hike can be attributable to an increase in costs. 

"Businesses will not and cannot use this state of emergency as a business opportunity," Nessel said at a press conference livestreamed Sunday on Facebook.

Nessel's staff said they have had 75 price gouging complaints and sent four letters so far to businesses to investigate specific instances. 

One was an unnamed Ann Arbor store that allegedly sold bottles of hand sanitizer — normally prized between $2.50 to $7.50 — for between $20 and $60. Another West Michigan store is accused of putting individual face masks in Ziploc bags and selling between $6-$10 each. The masks normally would run about $29 a box or $3 each. 

Residents who have price gouging complaints can call the Michigan Department of Attorney General at 877-765-8388. 

Whitmer said in a press release she will work with Nessel to guard against price-gouging. 

“We will continue to take every measure we can to mitigate the spread of coronavirus and protect Michigan families,” Whitmer said.