LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has announced that retail businesses in much of northern Michigan, including restaurants and bars, can reopen starting Friday, May 22.
The bars and restaurants will have to limit their capacity to 50%. Groups will be required to stay 6 feet apart and servers will wear face coverings.
The move affects two of the eight regions identified in the governor’s gradual reopening plan amid the coronavirus pandemic.
One covers the Upper Peninsula and another includes 17 counties in the northern Lower Peninsula, including the Traverse City area.
Office work will resume in the region if work cannot be done remotely. By relaxing these restrictions, these two areas will move into Phase 4 from the governor's reopening plan. The rest of the state is moving into Phase 4 as social distancing restrictions are relaxed Friday and retail business restrictions on Tuesday, May 26.
“This is a big step, but we must all remember to continue doing our part to protect ourselves and our families from the spread of COVID-19,” said Whitmer in a press release. “It’s crucial that all businesses do everything in their power to protect their workers, customers, and their families. And as we approach Memorial Day weekend, I encourage everyone to be smart and be safe. My team and I will continue to work around the clock to protect the people of Michigan.”
Regions 6 and 8 account for 7.5% of the state’s population within 32 counties. About 1% of the state’s coronavirus cases and deaths are in those regions.
The state had previously said it plans to reopen regionally and depending on the industry.
Local governments within these regions can choose to move cautiously, Whitmer said. They can decide to maintain certain restrictions if they are an area that has been hit by the virus.
“The data shows that these regions in Michigan are seeing consistent encouraging trends when it comes to the number of cases, deaths, and the percent of tests that are positive for COVID-19,” said MDHHS Chief Deputy for Health and Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. “It’s important to note that these businesses must take special precautions to protect Michiganders. I also encourage everyone to continue to wear a mask in public, maintain a 6 foot distance from others, and to remain vigilant in washing their hands often. This will help prevent a second surge in cases in our state.”
Businesses that do reopen will be required to implement new safety measures for their employees.
Last week, the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance sent a letter to the governor asking for the region to act as a test case for the state, to see how a partial reopening will work.
"The Alliance is supportive and excited about the regional reopening plan that you announced late last month, because our organization knows that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Our rural northern Michigan communities are eager to show that our business owners are committed to protocols to keep customers and employees safe," the letter read.
Whitmer said in her Monday press briefing that "the whole state" will be watching as these regions reopen.
"If we get this right, we will be able to take the next step," she said.
Within the governor's announcement were statements from the Marquette and Traverse City mayors and the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association. They all expressed their support for this action.
“We are thankful to Governor Whitmer as today marks an important first step of reintegrating restaurants into the fabric of our daily lives,” said Justin Winslow, President and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association. “Restaurants in the U.P. and northern Michigan understand that with their opportunity comes an extraordinary responsibility to operate in a manner that ensures the safety of their guests and their employees. I believe they are up to the challenge.”
Even though these regions are reopening, Whitmer still urged people not to travel there. "If you don't live in these regions, region 6 and 8, please think long and hard before you take a trip into them," she said.
Jim Carruthers, the mayor of Traverse City, said it has "pained" him to tell people not to visit the city during this time.
"Cherry blossoms are just about to explode. That's our signature 'welcome to Traverse City. Summer is here,'" he said, noting that the Traverse City Film Festival among other regional festivals have been canceled.
"These are economic engines. Those would drive the economy for us, and we really don't like seeing that happen. But we need to make sure we protect the safety and welfare of our citizens."
Michigan's stay at home order remains in effect until May 28.
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