Oakland Co. cuts business occupancy levels in half over virus concerns

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News

Oakland County officials issued an order late Saturday restricting occupancy in businesses serving food, entertainment venues and gyms to half their limits in hopes of helping stem the spread of the coronavirus. 

The order takes effect Monday and runs through April 5.

Dave Coulter

“This is a proactive step to ensure that our restaurants and other venues can provide our residents with safe environments and protect their employees,” Oakland County Executive David Coulter said. “We are committed to taking every necessary action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Oakland County.”

The order does not include health care and long-term care facilities or grocery stores.

Sunday afternoon Ohio's Gov. Mike DeWine announced the state would be closing bars and restaurants at 9 p.m. Sunday, allowing them only to stay open for carry-out and delivery. Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker did the same, saying bars and restaurants in that state would close Monday night. 

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

Detroit Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate, tweeted that he didn't think Michigan has gone far enough, saying restaurants also 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. 

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

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

El-Sayed added that the government needs to respond with financial help for small businesses that would be affected and employees, many who make a living on tips. 

The move comes as restaurants and bars approach St. Patrick's Day on Tuesday, which for Ferndale's Rosie O'Grady's is one of the busiest days of the year. 

Rachel Baker, kitchen manager, said they will closely follow the occupancy limit Tuesday, which for the restaurant would be a little less than 250 people. 

Sales already are down 20 percent, Baker said, at the restaurant group, which also includes One-Eyed Betty's and Pop's for Italian in Ferndale. 

"There is no good in panicking," Baker said. "You just take what you can get."

"We hope people feel safe enough to dine with us."

They are taking extra steps to prevent the spread of the virus, such as hand-washing every 30 minutes and sending glass and silverware through dishwashers multiple times. Carry-out has become more popular and the restaurant offers free curbside delivery, she said. 

In addition, Rosie's is offering free to-go lunches to children during the school week starting Wednesday until classes resume. 

"We know as an employer and employees that things are going to get a little tough and we just want to do what we can to help," Baker said. 

The Oakland County Health Division distributed an online link to a printable sign businesses can post on their doors notifying customers of the new capacity rules. It can be downloaded here.

“We know this virus is in our community and social distancing is vital to keep our residents healthy and stop the spread of illness,” said Oakland County Health Officer Leigh-Anne Stafford, who issued the order. “Strong measures are necessary to flatten the curve of coronavirus cases.”

According to the county, "food service establishments include but are not limited to restaurants, bars, church dining halls, schools, carry out, catering, country clubs, banquet halls and fraternal organizations.

"Entertainment venues and physical fitness centers include but are not limited to theaters, auditoriums, concerts, conferences, sporting events, gaming establishments and trampoline parks."

The move by the county comes as Beaumont's Royal Oak hospital is curbside testing patients for the coronavirus this weekend as more cases arise in Michigan. Oakland County is among the hardest hit with COVID-19 patients.

Coulter on Sunday praised Kennedy’s Irish Pub in Waterford Township after it announced it would be closed Tuesday, on St. Patrick’s Day, one of the busiest days of the years for bars.

“Kennedy’s Irish Pub has responsibly placed the health and safety of its customers first – a move Oakland County applauds,” Coulter said. “We echo Attorney General Dana Nessel’s concerns that St. Patrick’s day gatherings could increase the number of coronavirus cases in our area and hope other bars and restaurants will follow Kennedy’s example.”