Michigan restaurants seek to tie limits to positivity rate

Feb 17, 2021

Indoor dining
Credit Public Domain Pictures

Michigan restaurants on Wednesday proposed tying indoor capacity limits to the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive, contending that clear guideposts would help the hospitality industry navigate the pandemic.

Bars and restaurants, which reopened for indoor dining and drinking on Feb 1. after a 2 1/2-month ban, have a 10 p.m. curfew and are limited to 25% occupancy, up to a maximum of 100 patrons, under a state health order supported by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. She has opposed linking coronavirus metrics to the automatic loosening or tightening of restrictions.

The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association suggested food service and event space guidelines for restaurants, hotels and banquet halls, and urged that hospitality workers be included in the ongoing 1B phase of vaccinations.

If the state’s seven-day average positivity rate — now 3.9% and on the decline over the past five weeks — fell below 3%, there would be “no limitations.” If the rate was between 3% and 7%, restaurants could operate at 50% indoor capacity without a curfew. Indoor events would be capped at 250 people.

If the positivity rate was higher, restrictions would be tightened. Indoor food service would shut down if the rate reached 15% or above.

“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 industry group. ”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.”

The Democratic governor did not say if she supports the plan, but she has opposed Republican lawmakers’ calls for automatically tying economic reopening steps to changing case trends instead of favoring a more cautious approach.

“We will always take that input and make it a part of the conversation,” she said. “We’re also going to, though, stay very clearly focused on the numbers and the data and monitor where we are. Michigan is in a stronger position than most other states in the nation right now because the pause worked. It’s because we’re being very thoughtful about incrementally reengaging sectors of our economy that just inherently pose a higher risk.”

She renewed her push for the GOP-controlled Legislature to approve billions in federal pandemic spending.

The state said Wednesday that more than 1.6 million coronavirus vaccines had been administered, covering nearly 14% of residents age 16 and older. About 514,000 had received both doses.