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GRAND RAPIDS — The Kent County Health Department on Sunday ordered restaurants, bars, fitness centers and entertainment venues to reduce their maximum occupancies by 50 percent.
The emergency order that takes effect at 10 a.m. Monday seeks to limit the spread of the coronavirus and excludes employees from the occupancy limit.
Food establishments include restaurants, bars, church dining halls, schools, carry out, catering services, country clubs, banquet halls, and fraternal organizations, according to the emergency order.
“We did not make this decision lightly,” said Dr. Adam London, Kent County’s health officer. “We recognize that this will present significant challenges for hundreds of businesses and local establishments throughout the county, as well as for thousands of people who rely on those establishments for their jobs, but I believe it’s essential for protecting this community.”
The Kent County order follows Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order Friday to limit gatherings to 250 people in a shared space, except for industrial or manufacturing work, mass transit or the purchase or groceries or consumer goods.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said Sunday her office will enforce the executive order in cooperation with local authorities. All cases will go to the Attorney General’s office to assure they are handled uniformly, Nessel said.
“No one wants a shutdown of the food and beverage industry, but also no one wants the coronavirus,” she said. “We’re hoping no one has to be cited. My belief is that most proprietors in the industry are good actors, and want to be good community members, and want to be sure of the safety of the patrons and also of their employees. We are very hopeful they are going to do the right thing.”
Justin Winslow, CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association that represents nearly 18,000 restaurants and hotels in Michigan that employ more than 600,000 people, said he supports the governor’s executive order, despite its effect on the industry. He “strongly” urged association members to adhere to the governor’s executive order.
“These are pretty severe times for the industry, as they are for all of us right now. This industry is at the forefront economically taking a very significant hit,” Winslow said. “It is rare for me in this position to come and advocate on behalf of restrictions to the industry, but that’s where we find ourselves.
“We are in a once in a multi-generational pandemic and the threat is serious enough that it is critical for all of us to operate with an abundance of concern, care and caution.”
By following the executive order’s guidelines, “We hope to avoid the complete shutdown of bars and restaurants across our states,” said Scott Ellis, executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association.
“Doing what’s right and keeping people safe is our goal,” Ellis said. “We in our industry want to make sure we are on the front line to preventing any spread of this.”
Bars and restaurants throughout the state are “taking corrective measures to ensure their establishments are safe and sanitary,” Ellis said.
Also on Sunday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended postponing or cancelling gatherings of 50 or more people during the next eight weeks.
In Kent County, Spectrum Health, Mercy Health and Metro Health-University of Michigan Health said in a joint statement that they have adjusted visitor policies to meet another of the governor’s executive orders to not allow visitors at hospitals, outpatient locations and long-term care facilities, except for special circumstances. The circumstances are for one approved visitor for patients undergoing surgery, and for pediatric, maternity and critically ill patients or people at the end of lives.
Gov. Whitmer on Sunday issued an executive order that temporarily imposes added restrictions on “excessive pricing” for goods, materials, emergency supplies, and consumer food items.
“We will continue to take every measure we can to mitigate the spread of coronavirus and protect Michigan families,” Whitmer said. “In these challenging times, we need to come together as Michiganders. This order will help protect consumers from price gouging. Additionally, I’m working jointly with the Attorney General to enforce these orders, to protect consumers, and to hold bad actors accountable. We will get through this together.”
The anti-price gouging executive order, effective at 9 a.m. Monday until 11:59 p.m. April 13, states that after “a person has acquired any product from a retailer, the person must not resell that product in this state at a price that is grossly in excess of the purchase price at which the person acquired the product.”
The order also states that “a person must not offer for sale or sell any product in this state at a price that is more than 20 percent higher than what the person offered or charged for that product as of March 9, 2020, unless the person demonstrates that the price increase is attributable to an increase in the cost of bringing the product to market.”
Joe Potchen, chief of the Consumer Protection Bureau and Corporate Oversight Division of the Attorney General’s office, said four instances in which businesses allegedly “grossly increased their prices well beyond what others are charging” had been handled so far. Those businesses were sent letters from the Attorney General’s office seeking information, “and we are looking to see what we can and will go after under Michigan’s Consumer Protection Act.”
“We will not tolerate people attempting to swindle and scam others based on the fears and uncertainty during these trying times,” Potchen said.