Ban on indoor restaurant dining to continue through January
Thu, 01/14/2021 - 2:16pm caleb
Latest MDHHS ‘Gatherings and Face Mask Order’ announced Wednesday offers few changes from previous version
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
If numbers continue to head in the right direction our hope is we will be able to resume indoor dining with strong safety measures in place on February 1. We’re working on a path to allow indoor dining at restaurants with safety measures such as mask requirements, capacity limits, and a curfew starting on February 1. We’ll have more details to announce on this plan in the coming days." – Governor Gretchen Whitmer
State officials and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced a few changes to the current regulations in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, allowing exercise classes and indoor non-contact sports to resume with restrictions, but the adjustments did not include the re-opening of dine-in service at restaurants and bars.
Robert Gordon, Director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services – during a televised update on Wednesday, January 13, that also featured Governor Gretchen Whitmer and other state officials – said the regulations in the department’s “Gatherings and Face Mask Order” have worked in reducing cases of COVID-19 and deaths from the virus.
“The pause has worked,” Gordon said. “As we reduce the number of cases we also save lives. Michigan’s death rate was surging in November, it plateaued at a high rate, and it has since begun to come down, so because of the actions we have taken we have avoided thousands of COVID cases and there is every reason to believe we have saved hundreds of lives.”
“But we also recognize the toll that the pause is taking on people, especially now that it’s winter, not to be able to exercise like normal, not to be able to dine out, not to be able to work and earn a living. COVID is taking a physical and emotional toll on all of us,” Gordon said.
“Caution has worked for us in Michigan and we are staying with our cautious approach today. For the most part the prior order remains in place. This includes prohibiting indoor gatherings outside the household where masks are removed,” Gordon said. “There is one change. In order to support physical and mental health we’ll be permitting indoor athletics provided there is distancing and masking. Young people can practice sports in gyms with distancing and masking. Playing those same sports competitively, if it involves contact, is not allowed. Playing outdoor contact sports – except with the special testing under the department’s rules – is also not allowed.”
“Today we are confident that DHHS can lift some of the protocols that were previously in place,” Governor Whitmer said. “Starting January 16 until January 31 indoor group fitness and exercise class may resume with masks, and indoor non-contact sports may resume.”
Gordon said the department hopes to open dine-in service on February 1; the current Gatherings and Face Mask Order from the MDHHS is “in effect through January 31, 2021, at 11:59 p.m.,” according to the order.
“Indoor dining brings risk, because it involves taking off masks. We will have more to say soon about steps to mitigate these risks as best as possible based on our experience with the pandemic, reducing the number of people in restaurants and improving ventilation in particular,” Gordon said. “Our actions on February 1 will depend on what happens with the pandemic between now and then.”
“We know that places where people are mixing households, taking off their masks, and dining inside is inherently where we see spread. Study after study after study has shown that,” Governor Whitmer said.
“If numbers continue to head in the right direction our hope is we will be able to resume indoor dining with strong safety measures in place on February 1,” Governor Whitmer said. “We’re working on a path to allow indoor dining at restaurants with safety measures such as mask requirements, capacity limits, and a curfew starting on February 1. We’ll have more details to announce on this plan in the coming days.”
State officials did not elaborate on the “curfew” mentioned by Governor Whitmer.
The latest version of the Gatherings and Face Mask Order from MDHHS continues previous restrictions, including a limitation on gatherings in general (“no more than 10 persons from no more than 2 households” indoors and “25 or fewer persons” outdoors), occupancy limits for places like stores and libraries, face mask requirements, and contact tracing rules for personal care and exercise businesses.
State officials said they continue to monitor the same set of numbers as they navigate through the pandemic and their response to the virus.
“The factors we are looking at when making decisions are falling cases, percent of COVID hospital beds available, and falling positive test rates,” Governor Whitmer said. “Our numbers have been headed in the right direction. While there has been a slight uptick in our percent of positivity rate, our cases per million have plateaued and more hospital beds are becoming available.”
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Chief Medical Executive, provided some specific numbers during Wednesday’s update.
“So we are currently at 525,612 cases and 13,501 deaths due to COVID-19 in the state. Here’s where we are with the key metrics we are tracking. Our case rate is at 265 cases per million. After declining to a low of 239 the rate has increased and may now be plateauing. The percent of tests that are coming back positive is now 9.1 percent having gone between 8.1 percent and 10 percent over the past week,” Dr. Khaldun said.
“This is the first time both the case rate and the positivity have changed direction since mid-November. Although these rates may be plateauing, we need to continue to watch the numbers closely,” Dr. Khaldun said. “Twelve-point-one percent of available inpatient beds are filled with COVID-19 patients. The good news is that continues to decrease; however, the rate of that decrease is slowing. So overall we are in a much better place with our numbers than we were in the beginning of November and we’re in a much better place than most other states; however, while we have not identified the new more easily transmitted mutation of the virus in Michigan yet, that new strain is present in several other states and it may be present in Michigan, we just have not identified it yet.”
Dr. Khaldun urged Michigan residents to continue to use caution and wear masks, avoid gatherings, practice physical distancing, and quarantine and get tested for COVID-19 if sick.
“Overall I’m pleased with the progress we are making,” Dr. Khaldun said. “Vaccines are rolling out and we continue to make progress with that every day. While I’m concerned about the slight uptick in cases after the holidays, we are not seeing the surge in hospitalizations that we saw in the beginning of November.”
Locally, in northern Michigan, Munson Healthcare officials – during an online press conference on Tuesday, January 12 – said numbers are increasing.
“Our cases per 100,000 is going up over the last week,” said Dr. Christine Nefcy, Munson Healthcare Chief Medical Officer. “Last week we were at 347 cases per 100,000. We’re at 432. Additionally, last week we had a 7.4 percent positive rate on our tests and we are at 9.1 percent today. So we are seeing a slight uptick in the number of cases we’re seeing.”