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'It's tough,' Businesses brace for three-week pause during COVID-19 surge

On Sunday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a new three-week epidemic order issued by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan — Danielle Scott's staff learned of the partial shutdown after another busy Sunday.

Business had been good at Lucy's all summer and despite customers streaming in and out, Scott, the co-owner and executive chef, says they never had a COVID-19 case linked to the restaurant situated in the Creston neighborhood. 

"We followed the rules to a tee," she said. "And we'll keep following the rules afterwards."

On Sunday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a new three-week epidemic order issued by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

"We are at the precipice and we need to take some action," Whitmer said before announcing the new restrictions, which went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. 

Coronavirus case counts in the state have soared since the beginning of October. Hospitalizations are also rising at an alarming rate. 

The new epidemic order includes the shutdown of indoor dining, in person learning at high schools and colleges and puts strict limitations on gatherings in an effort to curb the spread. 

The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association has sued over the order in an effort to reopen restaurants for indoor dining. The governor said Sunday that indoor dining is "an inherently more dangerous activity with this much COVID present all across the state." 

Scott said she gets the need for restrictions. Her main concern is her staff. 

"There's no money this time, there's no plan," she said Wednesday. "I still think this is probably the right move, but there's no plan. That's what's the hardest part is telling staff that you don't have a job at the moment."

During the first statewide shutdown in the spring, Scott had to layoff most all of her 25 employees, but there was the promise of some financial relief back then.

She's keeping more employees on this time around. But even so, about half her staff had to be laid off.

"It's tough. It's a tough time," Scott said. 

A position that many restaurant owners find themselves in now. 

Michigan's Unemployment Insurance Agency says it's better prepared for a large influx in demand now. 

“The UIA has increased capacity, improved workflow, and other internal systems, and reduced red tape to meet the unprecedented level of claims that have been filed since the pandemic began,” said UIA Acting Director Liza Estlund Olson, in a press release Tuesday. 

The agency said it's tripled customer facing staff members from 650 to now 2,000 staffers.

The UIA also issued tips for claimants who are filing for unemployment again this year to reopen their spring claims and use the same account. 

Click here for more information from the UIA.

On Sunday, Whitmer urged the federal government to take action to help states like Michigan in need of financial relief. 

"I'm calling on the Trump administration and Leader McConnell and Speaker Pelosi, to get this stimulus package done, because there are a lot of people who are struggling," she said.

Starting at 7 a.m. Thursday, Lucy's will begin it's fully takeout operation. They've also gotten creative with selling frozen cinnamon roles and biscuits and gravy for people to bake at home, as well as, mimosa kits. 

Unlike in the spring, Scott says she is keeping open the café area, which allows her to keep on additional employees. One customer will be allowed in the building at a time. 

The goal, she says, is to breakeven. 

"That's really all this is about at this point. I'm not here to make money right now, we're just trying to stay afloat," she said. 

"I'm just trying to make sure that my staff has food on their table. Their children are safe, have food, clothes, diapers, like, that's the only thing that really matters to me, right now. I love Lucy's, I love my restaurant, but these people have been working for me for two years some of them. They're my family."

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