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Restaurants pitch reopening plan tied to COVID-19 positivity case data

Restaurants pitch reopening plan tied to COVID-19 positivity case data

By Scott McClallen, The Center Square

After nearly a year of operating under heavy COVID-19 restrictions, the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association (MRLA) pitched a “metric-driven roadmap” to restore normal hospitality industry operations.

The plan creates a schedule that ties hospitality occupancy restrictions to the COVID-19 daily positive test rate (www.mistartmap.info).

“We have long advocated the need for a more comprehensive strategy for the economic reintegration of our restaurants, banquet centers and entertainment venues in Michigan,” MRLA President and CEO Justin Winslow said in a statement. “Through this plan, we are putting our metrics where our mouth is and hope it proves a useful tool to elected leaders as we enter a new phase of the pandemic.”

Winslow also encourages the state to expedite hospitality worker vaccinations as “Other Essential Frontline Workers” under Category 1b.

States including Colorado, New York, Massachusetts, and Washington D.C. have already begun the targeted vaccination of the hospitality industry.

“There is no faster way to build back our restaurants and hotels than through the systematic, expedited vaccination of Michigan’s hospitality industry,” Winslow said. “Vaccination will provide safety to frontline workers, allow for the stable reintegration of Michigan’s second largest employer and restore public confidence that they may safely dine and travel once again.”

In reaction to increasing COVID-19 numbers after the first dining shutdown, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration enacted a “three-week pause” of indoor dining that turned into 75 days, although her administration’s benchmarks for reopening had already been met.

Restaurants cried foul, pointing out the hospitality industry is Michigan’s second-largest private employer, responsible for 12.5% of the state’s workforce; has experienced roughly 3,000 permanent closures since March (approximately 200,000 jobs); and more than half of all hotels remain at real risk of foreclosure in 2021.

That number could climb to 6,000 more restaurants permanently closed by spring under continued shutdowns, the MRLA said.

Currently, restaurants have a 10 p.m. curfew for indoor dining and a capacity limit of 25%.

Under the MRLA plan, indoor food service would be closed if daily positivity rates cleared 16%. A positivity rate between 10% and 15% would allow 25% capacity. A rate between 7% and 10% would allow half capacity with a 10 p.m. curfew, but that curfew would be removed if the positivity rate dropped to 3% to 7%. If the seven-day daily average positivity rate stayed below 4% for 14 days, there would be no limitations on restaurants or hotel and banquet centers.

The current seven-day positivity rate is 3.5%.

Small Business Association of Michigan President Brian Calley backed the plan.

“The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association plan provides a strong, data-driven approach to reopening for some of the hardest-hit industries. Restaurants, lodging, and event/meeting-based businesses need to know what the standards are that keep them closed or limited in their operations, and when restrictions will be eased. These metrics establish those standards in an objective way, keeping public health and safety front and center.”

When directly asked about the MRLA plan at her Wednesday afternoon news conference, Whitmer admitted it’s been a “hard time” for restaurants but dodged the question.

“We’re also going to stay very clearly focused on the numbers, and the data, and monitor where we are,” Whitmer responded.

Whitmer didn’t elaborate on what numbers or data she’s talking about.

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