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Indoor Dining Reopens February 1

Concessions and personal services also allowed under new MDHHS epidemic order 

By Judy Reed

Following the recent announcement about the plan to reopen indoor dining, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) released another epidemic order last Friday, January 22, which goes into effect on Monday, Feb. 1. The order will allow for indoor dining at restaurants with certain requirements; concessions at casinos, movie theaters and stadiums; personal services requiring mask removal; and non-residential gatherings of up to 10 people from two households. The new order will last three weeks, until Sunday, Feb. 21.

“The pause has worked. The efforts we have made together to protect our families, frontline workers and hospitals have dramatically reduced cases and we have saved lives. Now, we are confident that starting February 1, restaurants can resume indoor dining with safety measures in place,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

Restaurants and bars will be allowed to reopen at 25% capacity with up to 100 people. Tables must be six feet apart with no more than six people per table. Outdoor tents with four sides are permitted under these same rules. Bars and restaurants must close by 10 p.m. Additionally, contact information must be collected from diners for contact tracing purposes.

While restaurants are happy progress is being made toward indoor dining, opening at 25 percent capacity is just a drop in the bucket of what they need. “With only offering take out, we are down in sales about 80-85 percent,” explained Jody Arp, of Red Bird Grill and Bistro. “Although we are excited to be able to serve our guests in the dining room again, 25% capacity is not enough for us to keep up on all the overhead costs.”

David Ringler, Director of Happiness at Cedar Springs Brewing, is also feeling the pinch. “We thank everyone for their support over the past 11 months, for all local businesses. This has been incredibly difficult on our team and our guests. We’ll ask for your continued patience and understanding as 25% capacity does not mean ‘open.’ It means we still have a fraction of our normal seating and staff, who will continue to work hard to serve you safely and with a smile. We ask for your ongoing cooperation with our license requirements and we promise to work diligently to prioritize safety and continue our mission to make our community a better place.”    

What can customers expect of the restaurants next week?

“For us at The Red Bird, we will remain closed on Mondays until we can seat more capacity,” said Arp. “We have 6-8 tables available and are able to seat 28 people in the dining room. We will seat based on head count at each table to not exceed the capacity limits. We will ask our guests to be kind and only dine with us in 1-1/2 hour time limits to help accommodate other guests. We will offer our full menu that is posted online with some specials. We will continue to do our family meal deals for take-out. We will continue to make sure we are following the guidelines to keep everyone safe.”

Cedar Springs Brewing Company will be open 12-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 12-4 p.m. on Sundays. They will still need to gather phone numbers, for contact tracing purposes of ALL guests. They will be serving in “to go” containers using the existing “Shutdown” menu for now, and will be using glassware again inside. If at seating capacity, guests must wait on the Bierdock or in their car in compliance with state regulations. “We greatly appreciate your understanding,” said Ringler. “We remain vigilant! We’re dedicated to making every reasonable precaution to keep you and our staff safe. Thank you all for being awesome and your ongoing support!”

The restaurant also took an extra step to minimize COVID-19 risks. “We were pleased to participate in the NSF & MIOSHA Ambassador program for COVID-19 readiness and preparations. We were pleased to score 100% on our safety inspection – one of the first to do so!” explained Ringler. “We cannot wait to serve you indoors again, but safety is always our top priority.”

MDHHS had been closely monitoring three metrics for stabilization or declines over the past several weeks. Michigan continues to see improvements in these metrics which has allowed for additional relaxing of protocols and reopening of activities. As of last week:

  • Hospital capacity dedicated to COVID-19 patients has been in seven-week decline, with current capacity at 9.9% for beds with COVID-19 patients. Peaked at 19.6% on Tuesday, Dec. 4.
  • Overall case rates: Currently at 225 cases per million. Peaked at 740 cases per million on Saturday, Nov. 14, plateaued after a decline to 239 on Friday, Dec. 25 and has been in decline for 11 days.
  • Positivity rate: currently at 6.8% and declining.

“This announcement is possible because of our progress over the last two months,” said Robert Gordon, (former) MDHHS director. “Even so, the science is clear that unmasked, indoor activities like dining and drinking are still a source of high risk around COVID-19. The safest course remains to support your favorite restaurant with carryout, delivery or outdoor dining. If individuals choose to eat out, there are two things they can do to make it much safer: go out only with members of their own household and choose a restaurant participating in the MI COVID-19 Safer Dining certification program.”

The voluntary MI COVID-19 Safer Dining program allows food service establishments to become certified by having their ventilation system inspected and submitting their inspection report to the state indicating they are optimizing airflow. Once certified, businesses will be featured on the Michigan.gov/covidsaferdining website and receive a copy of their certification to post at their establishment to alert diners of their participation. Funding is proposed for food service establishments to participate as part of the $10 million included in the recent supplemental budget request for restaurant supports administered by the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

More information will be available at Michigan.gov/covidsaferdining.

Indoor residential and non-residential gatherings are limited to 10 people and two households. MDHHS continues to urge families to avoid indoor gatherings or to pick a single other household to interact with consistent with guidance already released by the department. Families are encouraged to stay home as much as possible to maintain momentum and to protect loved ones. Families are also encouraged to Mask Up, Mask Right, using guidance for what masks to wear and how to wear them.

The epidemic order continues to temporarily pause indoor contact sports and other venues and activities where participants have close physical contacts and are not consistently masked, like water parks. However, as of Jan. 22, stadiums can allow up to 500 people at venues that seat over 10,000 people and stadiums that seat less than 10,000 are allowed to be at 20% capacity, up to 250 people. 

As before, employees who work in jobs that cannot be performed from home can continue to go to work, while employees who can work from home should continue to do so.

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