Michigan restaurants propose reopening plan tied to COVID testing data

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Restrictions on Michigan restaurants such as capacity limits and curfews would change based on the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests under a plan proposed Wednesday by an organization that advocates on behalf of the businesses.

The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association called its proposal a "metric-driven roadmap to eventually restore normal operations within the hospitality industry." It's an industry that's lost 3,000 restaurants and 200,000 jobs during the pandemic, according to the association.

"We have long advocated the need for a more comprehensive strategy for the economic reintegration of our restaurants, banquet centers and entertainment venues in Michigan,” said Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the restaurant and lodging association. "Through this plan, we are putting our metrics where our mouth is and hope it proves a useful tool to elected leaders as we enter a new phase of the pandemic.”

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During a second surge in the coronavirus, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration suspended indoor dining at restaurants for 75 days from Nov. 18 through Jan. 31. Some restaurant owners and lawmakers were critical of the decision, calling for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to provide specific benchmarks based on COVID-19 data that would allow reopening to take place.

Right now, restaurants have a 10 p.m. curfew for indoor dining and a capacity limit of 25%.

Members of Whitmer's administration have generally resisted listing specific metrics for easing restrictions, saying the decisions are based on trends in hospitalizations, new cases and testing data. On Jan. 22, the state's then-health director, Robert Gordon, said indoor dining was "still a source of high risk around COVID-19."

Greg Jones, general manager, Granite City, prepares baby back ribs for pick up orders at Famous Dave's ghost kitchen inside Granite City restaurant in Troy on Wednesday, January 13, 2021.

But the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association wants future decisions directly tied to the rate of positive coronavirus tests, which the group described as "a reliable barometer to measure the saturation of the virus in an area at a given time." Last week, Michigan's positivity rate dropped to 3.6%, the lowest weekly percentage since early October.

Under the restaurant association's plan, if the seven-day average positivity rate remained above 15% for 14 consecutive days, indoor dining would be closed. If the seven-day average remained between 10% and 15% for seven consecutive days, indoor dining would be allowed with 25% capacity and a 10 p.m. curfew.

The proposed plan from the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association to lift restrictions on restaurant dining.

The capacity limit would move to 50% if the seven-day average rate stayed between 7% and 10% for seven days. The curfew would lift if the rate remained between 3% and 7% for seven days. There would be no limitations if the seven-day average rate remained less than 3% for 14 consecutive days.

As part of its new plan, the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association is also calling for prioritizing hospitality workers for vaccines.

"The MRLA maintains that there is no faster way to build back better than through the systematic, expedited vaccination of Michigan’s hospitality industry," the group said Wednesday. "Vaccination will provide safety to frontline workers, allow for the stable reintegration of Michigan’s second largest employer and restore public confidence that they may safely dine and travel once again."

The association represents more than 5,000 Michigan food service and lodging establishments.

Since March 10, Michigan has reported 576,264 COVID-19 cases and 15,177 deaths linked to the virus. Last week, the state disclosed 6,576 new infections, a 19-week low.