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Along with dine-in locations, Whitmer closes theaters, gyms, libraries

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a wide-ranging executive order Monday to stem the spread of COVID-19, closing Michigan places where people gather, including restaurants, bars, cafes, movie theaters, exercise facilities and casinos by 3 p.m. Monday.

The closures are good through March 30, according to Whitmer's order.

But the order specifically says restaurants can still provide delivery and takeout options for customers. Restaurants may allow five people inside at a time to pick up orders, so long as they stay six feet apart from each other.

The governor later Monday issued another order limiting events and indoor gatherings to 50 people.

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"This disease is a challenge unlike any we’ve experienced in our lifetimes," Whitmer said in a statement. "Fighting it will cause significant but temporary changes to our daily lives.

Thomas Deschamps of Farmington Hills makes his way into Powerhouse Gym in Novi for one last workout a few hours before the public gym and all others in the state of Michigan close at 3 p.m.  Monday by executive order of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

"By practicing social distancing and taking aggressive action now, the state is working to mitigate the spread of coronavirus so we reduce the risk that our health care system becomes overwhelmed. This is about saving lives."

Ronald Goldsberry, 23, of Bloomfield Township and Asa Garcia, 23, of Houston rushed Monday to Lafayette Coney Island in downtown Detroit to have one last dine-in meal before Monday's 3 p.m. cutoff.

Goldsberry is troubled by Whitmer's edict.

"I actually was working in a restaurant, and now I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said.

The owner of competitor American Coney Island supported the order.

“I’m not panicking. I’m not scared. We follow the protocols,” Grace Keros said. “If we all act together and follow the rules and regulations, we’ll get through this.”

According to the National Restaurant Association, Michigan has nearly 450,000 bar and restaurant workers.

Closures hit gyms, casinos

The closures come as other states, including Ohio and Illinois, move toward the same restrictions and the morning after the state of Michigan announced 20 new confirmed positive coronavirus cases. On Monday, it announced an additional case, bringing the statewide total to 54. 

The executive order on closures affects restaurants, food courts, cafes, coffeehouses and other places of public accommodation offering food or beverage for on-premises consumption. Bars, libraries, museums, indoor workout facilities, movie theaters, cigar bars and casinos also must close.

The restrictions don't apply to office buildings, grocery stores, markets, food pantries, pharmacies, drug stores, health care facilities, residential care facilities, juvenile justice facilities, warehouse centers and manufacturing facilities, according to the state.

"It leaves me kind of upset and bummed," Royal Oak Gym manager and owner Matt Brimer said of the edict, "but nothing much I can do. No point getting too mad about it." 

In some respects, gyms and fitness centers find themselves in a better position than restaurants and many other businesses, since health facilities generally rely on memberships rather than a pay-as-you-go system.

Amid the looming closures, some restaurants in Michigan are "dying on the vine," said Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association. Some hotels have occupancy rates in the single digits, he said. Layoffs have already started, he said.

While the association supports Whitmer's decision, Winslow said he hopes the state becomes qualified for U.S. Small Business Administration disaster loans that would provide businesses low-interest loans for an infusion of cash. He also suggested the state delay tax payments if possible.

"The cascading effect will be economy-wide," Winslow predicted of the situation. "I think this industry is just at the forefront."

The restaurant and hospitality industry employs more than 600,000 people in Michigan, he said. It's possible that the state's jobless rate will jump from about 3.8% in January to over 13% in a "blink of an eye," Winslow said.

Eateries adjust, face troubles

Just after noon Monday, which is normally the busiest time for downtown Detroit restaurants, only two tables were occupied at Mr. Kabob Xpress Grille & Catering. Owner Ouse Gulli was still accepting diners up until about 2 p.m. Monday, as well as to-go meals and food ordered via the pick-up app Ritual. 

“What I do know for sure is that the surrounding companies have already told their people that right now they’ve mandated until April 6 to not come to work," said Gulli, who has operated a restaurant downtown for several years and has been in the industry for two decades.

Mr. Kabob owner Ouse Gulli speaks about closing his doors to dine-in business because of the coronavirus pandemic on Monday.

"Some companies are at 30 days from Friday. So we are contemplating whether to shut down or not.”

Gulli said he’s going to test being open the next few days from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. for what lunch traffic there is, but the future is uncertain. 

"I’ve never experienced anything like this in my lifetime,” he said.

In East Lansing, where Michigan State University has temporarily canceled in-person classes, a variety of coffee shops and eateries posted notices on their doors letting customers know that they were either closed or customers had to take their meals to go.

Chipotle Mexican Grill was still accepting online orders and letting only five customers in at a time to pick them up. A sign on the door asked customers to stand six feet apart.

"I’m not waiting for that," said Daniel Zheng, 19, a sophomore at MSU, after finding out he would have to place his order online.

But Gary McDowell, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, encouraged the public to continue supporting local businesses in a statement Monday.

"You can still get your favorite foods, just in a different way than before, as we work together to reduce the spread," McDowell said in a Monday statement. 

"I urge you to continue to support your area businesses, who are often the foundation of our local communities, by buying gift certificates for later use, getting take-out or delivery.”

State 'getting aggressive'

During a Monday morning interview on MSNBC, Whitmer said her decisions had not been "taken lightly" and had been "informed by the best science."

"But as we see, this virus is growing exponentially," Whitmer added. "As we know, the federal government hasn't been prepared. We on the state level I think are getting aggressive, and I mean that in terms of on both sides of the aisle."

Whitmer said she had been on the phone with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, two Democrats. All three have taken similar steps to close dine-in eating options at restaurants.

Mariah Jackson, 19, waits on a take out customer at Bucharest Grill on Piquette Street in Detroit on Monday.

On Sunday, Whitmer said photos of college students packing bars after university closures Wednesday were "incredibly disturbing" and said the state planned to take additional action.

Whitmer noted during her MSNBC interview that the state has power over bars and restaurants' liquor licenses when asked about what would happen to businesses that don't comply.

"This is about our public health," she said. "This is about the long term in our economy, and that's why everyone needs to comply with these orders, and we're going to use every tool in our toolbox to make sure that they do."

In downtown Plymouth, restaurants will be counting on the nearby residents to keep carryout business afloat.

“We’re going to do everything we can to let the community know that our businesses are a fabric of our community, and we hope that they continue to support them even if in a limited way,” said Plymouth’s Downtown Development Authority director Tony Bruscato, adding that the DDA doesn’t really have money to help businesses in situations like this. 

Assistant manager Elijah Martinez wipes down and sterilizes the counters and public areas of the Which Wich sandwich restaurant in Farmington Hills on Monday.

“Sports bars have already taken a hit because we have no sports, and whether it be fine dining or the smaller casual places, it’s certainly going to be a hit for everybody,” Bruscato said. 

Many downtown Plymouth restaurants — including Stella’s Black Dog Tavern, Barrio and Pizze e Vino — are switching to carry-out only models and will take it a step further by offering curbside pick-up. Boule Artisan Bakery will start curbside pick-up Tuesday.

Kilwins sweet shop will remain open for retail but will close its small dining room.

Staff Writers Ariana Taylor, Beth LeBlanc, Melissa Nann Burke and the Associated Press contributed