by Scott McClallen
Nearly a year after the COVID-19 pandemic began, Michigan is surrounded by states that dropped restaurant restrictions while Michigan restaurants statewide are still capped at 25% capacity and a 10 p.m. curfew.
Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin have no statewide restaurant capacity limits, according to the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association (MRLA).
Meanwhile, Whitmer quietly extended the 25% capacity and 10 p.m. restaurant restrictions until March 29, which will mark more than a year operating under constraints.
MRLA President and CEO Justin Winslow questioned the restrictions enacted after a 75-day indoor dining shutdown ending on February 1.
“Restaurants reopened at 25% occupancy on Feb 1. and have been required to collect contact tracing info of guests during this period,” Winslow tweeted. “Through 3.5 weeks, not a single case of COVID-19 transmission has been attributed to a restaurant patron,” he said, citing state COVID-19 outbreak data.”
That data showed two new outbreaks associated with a restaurant employee, with a total of five outbreaks.
The highest-outbreak categories continue to be long-term care facilities (251), K-12 schools (104), and construction (70). Whitmer has repeatedly urged students to return to schools in-person.
According to state data, restaurants are the 15th-highest COVID-19 outbreak source, also trailing behind behind healthcare, retail, colleges, offices, childcare, the “other” category, jails, social gatherings, agriculture, homeless shelters, and religious gatherings.
Michigan Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Rich Studley said COVID-19 metrics are all down, and “there is simply no justification for extending the current statewide restaurant capacity restrictions for another month.”
“We have a governor who talks a lot about the science and the science, but … the administration’s own public health data simply doesn’t justify continuing to inflict these restrictions,” Studley told The Center Square in a phone interview.
Michigan restaurants have some of the most severe restrictions in the country on a restaurant industry that’s already struggling to survive, Studley said.
“The only thing the Whitmer administration is accomplishing now is to continue to increase the number of struggling restaurants that are at-risk of closing permanently and shipping business every day into Indiana and Ohio.”
Some Macomb County Restaurants have sued Whitmer seeking damages for the last year.
The restrictions “devastated us,” Samuel Backos, the owner of Ernie’s Mediterranean restaurant in Clinton Township, previously told The Center Square. “Our business is over 70% down.”
“Our 44 years of equity, retirement, investment, everything we’ve hoped to gain has been wiped out,” Backos said.
Andiamo’s Dearborn restaurant also shut all of its operations for good on Sunday after 17 years, citing $3 million in losses over the past 11 months last year, the Detroit News reported.
Last week, the MRLA pitched a restaurant reopening plan tied to COVID-19 positivity case data, on which Whitmer has declined to comment.
“We are committed to protecting Michiganders from COVID-19 and are always reviewing the data to determine actions to be taken going forward with epidemic orders, but we have nothing to announce at this point,” Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Spokesperson Lynn Sutfin told The Center Square in an email.
Whitmer vaguely hinted at loosening restrictions soon, but for over 3,000 restaurants that permanently closed in 2020, it’s too late.
Whether led by Democrats or Republicans, large government bureaucracies are “extremely reluctant to return power to the people,” Studley said, especially when that power controls the daily lives of 10 million Michiganders.
“The governor talks about the possibility, at some point in the future, maybe next week, maybe next month [of loosening restaurant restrictions],” Studley said. “Well, what do we know? Tomorrow never comes.”
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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.