Michigan restaurants push governor for May 29 reopening

David Eggert
Associated Press

Lansing – Michigan restaurants and bars on Friday pushed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to let them reopen in three weeks, saying they need a lifeline to survive financially and a chance to show the public it is safe to return.

Vasi's Cafe is shown closed in St. Clair Shores on Friday, May 8, 2020. Many restaurants have closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The venues have been closed to dine-in customers since March 16. They hope to resume service on May 29, when restrictions are set to end without an extension.

Guidance released Friday by the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association to help restaurants prepare to reopen their dining rooms includes procedures for cleaning, screening workers, providing them masks and gloves, and keeping customers, tables and bar stools 6 feet apart.

“The No. 1 challenge for restaurants is still going to be convincing the public that restaurants are safe to return to. But they need to be given that chance,” said Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the industry group. He estimated that more than 20 restaurants a day will close for good this month despite the federal coronavirus relief package.

Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said the governor “will continue to listen to medical experts and put the health and safety of Michiganders first.”

Whitmer indicated Thursday that bars and restaurants will not reopen until the state reaches the fifth of six phases for reengaging the economy. It is now in the third phase, during which the governor has allowed construction, real estate, outdoor work and – starting this Monday – manufacturing to resume.

For Michigan to progress to the fifth phase, coronavirus cases and deaths would have to reach “low absolute rates per capita,” hospital capacity would need to be “very strong,” and “robust” testing and contact tracing would have to be in place, according to a chart released by Whitmer.

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“There’s not a lot of clarity there. There’s no date certain. All of that feels pretty malleable, and this industry needs some clarity and guidance because they’re closing,” Winslow said.

With the need for restaurants to spread dine-in customers apart, he said, the organization is speaking with municipalities and the state Liquor Control Commission about expediting the regulatory process to open patios. Restaurants, bars and cafes likely will propose new ways to use parking lots and streets closed to traffic to effectively operate in less densely packed spaces, he said.

Ohio bars and restaurants can fully reopen on May 21, with outside dining allowed on May 15. Ohio has about half of Michigan’s 46,300 COVID-19 cases and less than a third of the death toll, which is nearly 4,400. Michigan on Friday reported 50 additional deaths and 680 more cases.

Whitmer said Thursday that the state has had a “uniquely tough time” with the disease, and she had to be aggressive with her orders.

“We have to reengage like a dial, not a switch that goes on or off, but a dial that we can turn,” she said. “We can continue to turn the intensity up if everyone does their part. We have to remember the threat of a second wave is very real.”

The Republican-led Legislature this week sued to challenge the validity of Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, which is set to last at least until May 28. State Court of Claims Judge Cythia Stephens on Friday set oral arguments for May 15.