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Published in Economic Development
Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun COURTESY PHOTO

State clamps down on gathering sizes, restaurants as COVID cases surge

BY Thursday, October 29, 2020 04:20pm

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has extended emergency orders that reinstates restrictions on gathering sizes and requires bars and restaurants to collect contact information from customers to aid in contract tracing.

“The only way to beat COVID is to act on what we’ve learned since March,” MDHHS Director Robert Gordon said in a statement. “Wear masks. Keep six feet of distance. Wash hands. And avoid the indoor get-togethers where we have seen COVID explode.”

The department’s move Thursday extends and revises a previous emergency order on gathering sizes and face masks. It reduces maximum indoor gatherings for events including weddings, parties and banquets from 500 to 50 people. State officials noted dozens of outbreaks in Michigan linked to weddings, funerals and other parties.

Bars, restaurants and social events outside of private homes must limit parties at a single table to six people, according to the MDHHS order. Starting Nov. 2, bars and restaurants also will be required to gather names and contact information from customers to help support potential contact tracing. The rest of the order is in effect immediately.

State officials reported Thursday that 12 outbreaks were linked to Michigan bars and restaurants.

“The orders that MDHHS has issued are centered on keeping the public safe and following best practices to reduce the spread of this deadly virus,” said Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. “The alarming surge we are now seeing is exactly why we were so worried about the fall season.”

The Michigan Licensed Beverage Association downplayed the role that bars have played in the spread of COVID-19 cases.

“Another day, another bar and restaurant regulation that looks good on paper. Why do they continue to pick on bars and restaurants when their own data continues to show that we are not a problem industry?” MLBA Executive Director Scott Ellis said in a statement. “It would be more productive to focus on identifying and solving the real problems.”

The emergency order comes as Michigan, including West Michigan, is experiencing a surge in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, which health experts have predicted may come in the fall and winter months. Spectrum Health officials have expressed public concerns this week about the rise in hospitalizations. Statewide, hospitalizations are up roughly three times the number from a month ago.

The MDHHS emergency orders came this month after a Michigan Supreme Court ruling struck down dozens of executive orders from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, finding a 1945 law they were based on was unconstitutional. Last week, a Christian school and a chiropractor’s office — both in Ottawa County — had filed lawsuits challenging the MDHHS order on gatherings and mask use, the Detroit News reported.

Violations of the department orders are punishable by up to a $1,000 civil fine or may also be treated as a misdemeanor. Businesses could also face licensure penalties for not complying.

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