Shirkey wants Whitmer to provide reopening metrics for restaurants

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey is demanding Gov. Gretchen Whitmer release the metrics with which restaurants must comply to reopen as a three-week ban on in-person dining is set to end next week. 

Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said Whitmer should issue the metrics restaurants must meet for their reopening after the expiration of the order next Wednesday to give owners "adequate time to ready their establishments."

Whitmer said Thursday an extension of the three-week "pause" was "sadly possible" because of the volume of COVID-19 cases in Michigan. She said case rates and hospitalization rates may be a factor in the decision.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake reacts to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's second State of the State speech in this Jan. 30, 2020, file photo.

Individual businesses violating workplace public health standards should face consequences but the current order threatens "the livelihood of an entire industry," Shirkey said. 

“The food and beverage industry has repeatedly been targeted for shutdown orders despite restaurant owners proving themselves to be willing partners in adopting new health and safety standards to keep employees and patrons safe," he wrote in a statement. 

Restaurant owners have argued they make up a relatively small portion of outbreaks compared with congregate care facilities and school settings. At the beginning of the three-week pause in November, restaurants and bars made up about 4% of outbreaks. As of last week, restaurants and bars still made up 4% of ongoing outbreaks. 

Grand Rapids Federal District Judge Paul Maloney denied restaurants immediate relief earlier this week from the orders.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon told lawmakers Thursday that cases in restaurants and bars may not lend themselves to tracking as well as schools or nursing homes, but are still high-risk for COVID-19 spread.  

"Among settings where it is difficult to do contact tracing – in other words, not nursing homes, not K-12 schools, not colleges — there actually are a significant number of outbreaks at bars and restaurants," Gordon said, noting areas where people move around and mingle are inherently riskier than others. 

"...The outbreak data are one source of information, but as I said they are incomplete and quite limited," he said, noting the state also consults with experts about inherently high risk locations like restaurants.

Still, Shirkey argued individual behavior plays a larger role than any one industry or business. 

"Michiganders know how to protect ourselves and others from COVID," Shirkey said. " We need to band together and be conscious of the activities that we know increase the chances of spreading or contracting the virus."