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MDHHS issues three-week epidemic order

MDHHS issues three-week epidemic order

Restaurant and Lodging Association files suit

By Judy Reed

MDHHS Director Robert Gordon

Fall high school sports were just ready to head to the playoffs and winter sports begin; movie theaters had just opened; and restaurants were starting to see a little more cash flow from indoor dining. But under a new emergency order by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) that all changed this week.

According to press release from Governor Whitmer’s office, the action to limit indoor and outdoor gatherings and activities was done in an effort to curb rapidly rising COVID-19 infection rates.

Under this order, indoor residential gatherings are limited to two households at any one time. However,

MDHHS strongly urges families to pick a single other household to interact with over the next three weeks, consistent with new guidance released by the department. The order is aimed at limiting residential and non-residential gatherings where COVID-19 spreads rapidly. 

Bars and restaurants will be open for outdoor dining, carry-out and delivery only. Gyms will remain open for individual exercise with strict safety measures in place. Casinos, movie theaters and group exercise classes will be closed. 

Professional and college sports meeting extraordinary standards for risk mitigation may continue without spectators, however all other organized sports must stop. Colleges and high schools may proceed with remote learning but must end in-person classes.

In-person K-8 schooling may continue if it can be done with strong mitigation, including mask requirements, based on discussion between local health and school officials. Childcare also remains open to support working parents. 

“Indoor gatherings are the greatest source of spread, and sharply limiting them is our focus,” said MDHHS Director Robert Gordon. “The order is targeted and temporary, but a terrible loss of life will be forever unless we act. By coming together today, we can save thousands of lives.”

The order, which took effect Wednesday, Nov. 18, is not a blanket stay-home action like in the spring. The order leaves open work that cannot be performed from home, including for manufacturing, construction and health occupations. Outdoor gatherings, outdoor dining and parks remain open.

Individualized activities with distancing and face masks are still allowed: retail shopping; public transit; restaurant takeout; personal-care services such as haircuts, by appointment; and individualized exercise at a gym, with extra spacing between machines.

 “The data we are seeing is alarming. COVID-19 is impacting every area of our state. Our healthcare systems are becoming overwhelmed, and our contact tracers cannot keep up,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS. “If we do not act now, we risk thousands more deaths, and even more people having long-term health consequences. The actions we are taking today are the best opportunity we have to get this virus under control.”

“In the spring, we listened to public health experts, stomped the curve, and saved thousands of lives together. Now, we must channel that same energy and join forces again to protect our families, frontline workers and small businesses,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

Not everyone agrees that the action would protect small businesses. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association (MRLA) has filed suit in federal court for injunctive relief from the new order, which has prohibited indoor dining for the second time this year.

We have taken this action only after careful deliberation and as the last available option to prevent the outright devastation of restaurant operators and their hundreds of thousands of employees across the state,” said Justin Winslow, President & CEO, in a news release.
 “We want to be clear that we made several good faith efforts in advance of the public release of the Order issued November 15 to reach a compromise with the MDHHS that would have supported the goal of minimizing risk while still allowing for the continued operation of dining rooms. 

“The MRLA committed to substantially increased restrictions on our industry, including reducing capacity in restaurants to 25 percent and implementing a 10 p.m. curfew for the duration of the Order. While our proposal would undeniably challenge an already beleaguered industry, it was presented to Director Gordon and the Executive Office of the Governor in earnest to stave off the far worse impact of outright closure.”

According to Wilson, the following are important facts to consider regarding closing indoor dining:

 The COVID-19 Outbreak Investigation data tracked by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) attributes approximately 4.3% of all outbreaks to restaurants statewide.  

Despite serving millions of Michiganders each day, there are a total of (8) investigations statewide involving a restaurant patron.

MRLA survey data suggests more than 40% of restaurants will close, at least temporarily, if dining rooms are closed.

Approximately 250,000 employees are likely to be laid off from restaurants over the holiday season. With no federal funds and an exhausted Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, it is unclear where the revenue will derive to finance the influx of claims.

If the closure is prolonged and federal stimulus dollars are not made immediately available, upwards of 6,000 more restaurants will permanently close by spring. For the record, approximately 2,000 restaurants have already closed their doors permanently in Michigan in 2020.

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