The Whitmer administration has announced revised statewide COVID-19 orders that continue banning indoor dining until Jan. 15 but begin to reopen various entertainment facilities based on positive public health trends.
Friday’s anticipated announcement comes as a Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) emergency order was set to expire late Sunday. The original order, issued last month, closed indoor dining at bars and restaurants. It also closed in-person instruction at high schools as well as various entertainment facilities.
The latest order, which takes effect on Monday, will reopen in-person instruction at high schools if they elect to do so. It also reopens movie theaters, bowling centers and casinos under capacity restrictions.
State officials said indoor dining will be among the last activities to resume because masks are removed indoors when visitors are seated, and because it can be difficult to maintain social distancing in these settings.
The latest order allows for individuals or single households of up to six people at arenas, cinemas, various entertainment and sports venues, archery ranges, arcades, bingo halls, bowling alleys, non-tribal casinos and gun ranges. Various capacity restrictions apply, including 20 percent for fixed seating and 20 people per 1,000 square feet. Total occupancy is capped at 100 people, except for stadiums and arenas, which are capped at 250. Masks must be worn at all times.
Celebration! Cinema announced that it would reopen theaters on Monday.
“We feel really good about the experience we can offer, and are confident about the safety of going to the movies following our last round of theatre openings,” JD Loeks, president of Celebration’s Studio C, said in a statement.
Bar and restaurant advocates, however, were disappointed in the continued restrictions on indoor dining.
“Those in our industry are feeling a number of different things after the announcement. Some are angry, some are disappointed and some feel completely hopeless,” Michigan Licensed Beverage Association Executive Director Scott Ellis said in a statement. “With COVID-related numbers trending down, we thought it was time to give our bars and restaurants a break. We do not understand why the hospitality industry has been singled out, while trampoline parks and other entertainment facilities are allowed to open.”
Positive trends, vaccine frustration
Restrictions are loosening because key metrics continue to decline in test positivity rates, infection rates and hospitalizations, officials said. Michigan’s test positivity rate is on an 11-day decline and stands at 10.6 percent. Overall case rates are on a nearly month-long decline, now at 439 cases per million after peaking at 739 cases per million in mid-November. Hospital capacity with COVID-19 patients is also on a 13-day decline and sits at 17.3 percent.
“The pause is working,” DHHS Director Robert Gordon said during a press conference Friday. “We have made great progress, but that progress is precarious.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she met today with Republican state House and Senate leaders and indicated support “all around” for a deal on a $100 million relief package for small businesses, extending unemployment benefits and funding a pandemic response plan involving vaccine distribution, COVID-19 testing and personal protective equipment.
“I’m optimistic we can work together and get this done,” Whitmer said.
However, Whitmer also said “my frustration level is high” based on a lack of information she’s received from the federal government on vaccine distribution. Michigan and other states’ initially expected allotment has decreased over the past week.
“In Portage, Mich. there are vaccines ready to be distributed,” Whitmer said. “The thing standing between us and seeing that through is the federal government.”
The Michigan Health & Hospital Association also issued a statement Friday expressing frustration and disappointment.
“We find the lack of communication and clarity on the reduced allocation of Pfizer vaccine from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services disappointing and frustrating,” said MHA CEO Brian Peters. “Hospitals have gone to great lengths to ensure that frontline caregivers are available to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, which pulls vital staff away from treating patients when Michigan is in the middle of a second COVID-19 surge. Any delay in receipt of vaccine prolongs the vaccination process and puts healthcare workers at increased risk for contracting this deadly disease.”