Whitmer lifts stay-home order, allows dine-in restaurant, bar service

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is partially lifting Michigan's stay-at-home order by loosening restrictions on the operations of businesses and workplaces, while allowing larger outdoor gatherings and outside sporting events with certain restrictions.

Whitmer's decision allows dine-in service in restaurants and bars by June 8 with restrictions to keep tables at least six feet apart and keep the maximum capacity at 50%. Businesses would be allowed to serve customers inside their shops without an appointment starting Thursday.

Whitmer's latest executive order announced during a Monday press briefing also would allow for the opening of swimming pools and day camps for children, even as authorities in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties last Thursday declared all licensed private and public swimming pools closed for the summer. Public swimming pools must operate at 50% capacity.

Outdoor crowds of up to 100 individuals are allowed immediately, which opens the way for graduation parties, funerals and outside weddings. Under the revised order, Whitmer would allow employees to work from the office if their work couldn't be done remotely. 

Libraries and museums can reopen June 8 but will be subject to the same capacity and safety rules as retail stores.

"If the current trajectory continues, I anticipate in the next few weeks, we will be able to announce the rest of the state moving into Phase 5," said Whitmer, urging people to be responsible with new options.

Whitmer's Monday announcement essentially moved Michigan into phase four of her six-phase plan to reopen the state incrementally as cases decrease, testing increases and hospital capacity expands. 

The fourth phase is triggered by lower cases, hospitalizations and deaths and opens up a variety of businesses and activities that had been prohibited during the height of the virus.

Parts of the Monday order seem to straddle both the fourth and fifth phase since restaurant and bar reopenings — designated for the fifth phase — will occur as soon as next week. Phase 5 also includes in-person K-12 instruction and increased gathering sizes.

Whitmer has said it's unlikely the state will enter phase 6 — a complete repeal of pandemic restrictions — before there is a vaccine or a reliable form of treatment.

Republican lawmakers and critics in the business community welcomed the reopening steps, but noted they were "long overdue." 

A group of salons and barbershops criticized the new order, which excluded their businesses from those that could reopen despite the group's plan for what it says are safe reopening practices. It also keeps alive the state's crackdown on Owosso barber Karl Manke, who is fighting a Michigan Court of Appeals preliminary injunction to lock and close operations by appealing to the Michigan Supreme Court.

"Not only is this gutting the salon industry, but we are also losing business to neighboring states every day," said Mike Sarafa of the Alline Group and Kevin Lent of BAMF X2, both speaking on behalf of Safe Salons for Michigan. "We firmly believe we are safer open than closed."

Whitmer's action means Michigan is no longer among the smattering of states that have maintained the nation's strictest stay-home orders and restrictions — including New York, New Jersey, Virginia and Maryland — while vast swaths of the rest of the country have reopened activities.

Casinos, indoor theaters, gyms and salons and barbershops will remain closed. This hurts Detroit, which relies on the three casinos there for a significant chunk of its revenues.

Indoor gatherings of more than 10 people remain prohibited and people should continue to wear face coverings when in enclosed spaces, the order said.

Whitmer's action also authorizes businesses and building owners to deny entry or access to individuals who refuse to wear a mask. Some stores have been hesitant to try enforcing the rule, and a security guard at a Flint dollar store was fatally shot after asking an unmasked customer to leave.

Starting June 15, retailers will be able to reopen their bottle return facilities with the option of limiting hours for returns, restricting the number of machines used or limiting customers to $25 per day in returns.

Initially, retailers will be limited to 140% of the volume collected on average weekly between April 2019 and May 2019.

Sports practices and games would be allowed so long as individuals on the field and in the stands can maintain six-foot distances. Practically speaking, the rule would likely only allow for conditioning practices in team sports such as football or basketball since scrimmages or games would certainly require players to come in closer proximity with each other. 

In-home services, such as housecleaning, are allowed as long as social distancing rules are observed.

“The data has shown that we are ready to carefully move our state into the next phase of the MI Safe Start Plan, but we owe it to our brave front-line heroes to get this right,” Whitmer said in a Monday statement. 

“While Michiganders are no longer required to stay home, we must all continue to be smart and practice social distancing, and encourage those who meet the criteria to get tested for COVID-19. If we all do our part, our goal is to announce a shift to Phase 5 for the entire state prior to the Fourth of July.

"Stay smart, stay safe, and let’s all do our part.”   

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Monday he and Whitmer have been discussing the significant declines in the infection rate in the city, the hardest-area of the state. Detroit has led with its testing, he noted.

“I’m very anxious to get our restaurants open with outdoor seating as quickly as possible,” Duggan said. “And I’m hoping in the very near future, we’re talking about reopening the barbershops and the hair salons and nail salons in a safe way to do that. We need to get our folks back to work. Detroiters have earned this with the way they have been socially distancing."

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey's office noted Monday that he and the Republican caucus had been calling for "safe and sensible reopening for some time."

"Just as they've been calling for a better response to unemployment claims and more clarity about the governor's policy to place (COVID-19) positive patients in nursing homes," said Amber McCann, a spokeswoman for Shirkey, R-Clarklake. "The governor is adept at giving evasive responses that refer to elusive data, but she doesn't seem able to answer tough questions."

Michigan Chamber of Commerce CEO Rich Studley said the lifted restrictions were welcome, but "long overdue."

"Over the past 90 days, Whitmer's 110 executive orders have been confusing and arbitrary," creating chaos and confusion that could have been easily avoided, Studley said.

The U.S. Department of Justice on Friday formally voiced its support of a federal lawsuit filed by seven businesses that argued Whitmer's stay-home order drew "arbitrary distinctions among businesses and activities in the state of Michigan that lack a rational basis."

"Under the governor’s orders, it’s OK to go to a hardware store and buy a jacket, but it’s a crime to go inside a clothing store and buy the identical jacket without making an appointment," U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said of Whitmer's orders.

Studley also expressed some concern about Whitmer's assurances that local governments could still enforce restrictions stronger than state standards. The allowance could create a hodgepodge of rules that are difficult to navigate for businesses, Studley said. 

The restaurant industry had been begging the governor to allow eateries to reopen for dine-in service because hundreds of outlets were threatened with financial difficulties and going out of business. The restaurant and lodging industry welcomed Whitmer's move but a leader said the industry still faces challenges in helping restaurants "thrive" again.

"Our northern Michigan restaurants set a tremendous example for the rest of the state that this industry is capable of operating in challenging times while ensuring the safety of guests and workers alike," Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association President & CEO Justin Winslow said in a statement. "...This is just the beginning of our important work of keeping restaurants open, helping them survive so that one day soon they may thrive."

Whitmer let Northern Michigan reopen ahead of the rest of the state the Friday before Memorial Day. Restaurants and bars were permitted to reopen there with certain restrictions. 

More than a week ago, the governor also lifted restrictions on retail, auto dealerships, and medical, dental and veterinary procedures. 


Staff Writer Christine Ferretti contributed.