Counties across the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula will provide a model for stores, restaurants and bars across Michigan as they are allowed to reopen Friday following an executive order signed today by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
The order allows retail stores, offices, restaurants and bars to reopen while following social distancing guidelines and best practices to continue mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Restaurants and bars will be required to limit occupancy to 50 percent, separate tables by at least 6 feet, require servers to wear face coverings and sanitize dining areas. The partial reopening begins Friday.
Today’s announcement comes ahead of the Memorial Day weekend that could bring an influx of visitors to greater Traverse City and the U.P. Whitmer and an official with the hospitality industry say businesses allowed to reopen will be a model for the rest of the state.
“This is a big step,” Whitmer said during a press conference today. “The whole state is watching to make sure we get this right.”
The areas allowed to reopen are regions 6 and 8 in Whitmer’s MI Safe Start plan and span 17 counties in the Lower Peninsula and all 15 counties in the U.P. The region moves to phase four in the governor’s plan based on declining and relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases.
Justin Winslow, president of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, said he would “implore” businesses to “set the example for the rest of us” by having employees and patrons wear masks, sanitizing surfaces regularly and screening workers’ health.
“There are a lot of restaurateurs due south of you hoping to reopen in their own right and their livelihood is tied to how well you execute in the coming days,” Winslow said.
Under a second executive order signed today, businesses allowed to reopen must adopt safety measures included in Whitmer’s reopening plan issued on May 7, including training workers on infection-control and the proper use of personal protection equipment. Whitmer also created a director of COVID-19 workplace safety position in the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity to ensure compliance among employers.
Bill Hallan, president and CEO of the Michigan Retailers Association, called Whitmer’s announcement today a “great first step,” but noted retailers across the state continue to struggle to stay in business. Retail stores deemed non-essential were recently allowed to take online orders and fulfill curbside pickups.
“Employers want to reopen safely and responsibly and are already prepared to follow the worker safety requirements that the Governor outlined,” Hallan said in a statement. “We strongly hope retailers in southern and mid-Michigan can reopen soon, and we’ll continue working with the Governor’s office to make that happen.”
House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, also called today’s announcement a “positive step,” but maintained his criticism of the administration’s handling of the economic fallout from COVID-19.
“This is a positive step that we’ve been requesting for over a month now, but the vast majority of Michigan is still held captive in the nation’s worst lockdown,” Chatfield said in a Twitter post. “Cases have fallen, our hospitals [sic] beds are nowhere near full bed capacity and the curve was flattened weeks ago.”
Whitmer’s MI Safe Start plan anticipates reopening economic sectors based on steady declines in positive COVID-19 cases and deaths, increased testing and contact tracing and adequate hospital capacity.
“We’re hopeful that we can announce even more reengagement later this week ahead of the Memorial Day weekend,” Whitmer said today.