by Scott McClallen
Representatives from approximately 90 bars, restaurants, and other Michigan establishments signed a letter asking Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to safely reopen dine-in service “as soon as possible” to prevent additional permanent closures.
The Facebook post announcing the letter has been shared more than 1,000 times.
“This is not about right or left, this is about the livelihoods of everyone in the restaurant industry and the decision to extend the ban on dine-in service from today until February 1,” the letter reads.
Many of the signatory businesses are philanthropic foundations located in communities across Michigan. According to Michigan Farm News, REO Town district restaurant co-owners Matt Gillett and Travis Stoliker have distributed over 300 meals in 14 days during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, and their customers donated money for 430 additional meals for those in need.
Whitmer’s administration shuttered indoor dining on Nov. 17, initiating a “three-week pause” to slow the spread of COVID-19 that she subsequently extended three times for a total 75-day shutdown.
“Most of our businesses simply cannot survive on Take-Out alone,” the letter continues. “The loss of sales has put thousands of small restaurant operators in Michigan on the verge of bankruptcy.”
The letter details how the state has met the three metrics set in November to restart indoor dining, established by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS): lowering the 7-day average of new cases, hospitalizations, and percent positivity of cases.
MDHHS Director Robert Gordon explained in a Tuesday tweet thread that cases per million have dropped from 734 to 177 and that the share of hospital beds filled with COVID-19 patients is down from a peak near 20% to around 10%.
The 7-day average percent positivity rate has also dropped from 13.45% to roughly 7%.
“Although we have grit, we are running out. We need to open,” the letter continues. “Restaurants are the backbone of a community, employing over 15 million people nationally, and feeding our communities. 33% of restaurants in Michigan say that they will not be able to stay in business, according to the [Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association] (MRLA). “
All proprietors who signed the letter to the governor were required to not have opened against government restrictions; be respectful toward Whitmer; and be an owner/operator of a restaurant or entertainment venue that’s been restricted by the rules.
According to Opentable.com, Michigan and Washington are the only states where dine-in service is still banned statewide.
Michigan Licensed Beverage Association Executive Director Scott Ellis asked state officials to “stop moving the goal line.”
When Whitmer’s administration extended the indoor dining ban through Jan. 31, all three metrics were down as well.
Since the ban was announced in November, bars and restaurants have disagreed with the state’s assertion their establishments were a major source of COVID-19 outbreaks. State data placed them at the fourth-highest outbreak category.
“The numbers are down. We’ve met the metrics,” Ellis said. “We have done everything that has been asked by MDHHS from back in June…. We can’t continue like this. We have to find a way to balance the second-largest economy in the state of Michigan with this horrible disease. Otherwise, we’re going to lose everything.”
The industry already took a hit during forced shutdowns for months that shuttered about 2,000 restaurants in 2020.
That number could climb to 6,000 more restaurants by spring under continued shutdowns, the MRLA said.
MDHHS spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin told The Center Square in an email that they look forward to a Feb. 1 reopening date.
“We are pleased that our pause has helped bring COVID under control in Michigan, which is why we announced last week that we’re looking to reopen indoor dining at restaurants under our next order, starting on February 1, Sutfin wrote. “With the discovery of the new variant in Michigan over the weekend, we continue to proceed with cautious reopening.”
– – –
Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.
Photo “Small Business” by spurekar. CC BY 2.0.