Monday, September 27, 2021

Whitmer eases restaurant restrictions, dodges questions on Gordon's 155K payout

March 2, 2021
<p>Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a press conference for a COVID-19 update on Nov. 19, 2020. Courtesy of Michigan Executive Office of the Governor.</p>

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a press conference for a COVID-19 update on Nov. 19, 2020. Courtesy of Michigan Executive Office of the Governor.

Joined by Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel and MDHHS Chief Medical Executive Joneigh Khaldun, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that bars and restaurants could return to 50% capacity, up from 25% put in place.

The announcement came during a March 2 press conference. The new guidelines also include eased restrictions on social gatherings. The changes will go into effect on March 5 and remain in place until April 19. Whitmer said that increasing capacity levels are due to an improvement in the state's COVID-19 outlook.

Michigan currently has the second-highest case count of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant in the country at 421 cases according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The latest with indoor dining

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"I want to thank all of the people in this state who have done their part so that now, we're in a position that we can reengage more of our economy," Whitmer said. "Today, we are announcing that restaurants and bars can operate at 50% capacity."

Capacity changes are as follows:

  • 50% indoor dining capacity, up to 100 people. Tables must be 6 feet apart, with a max of six people at a table. Restaurant and bar curfew has changed from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m.
  • Retail shops allowed to operate at 50% capacity.
  • Indoor residential gatherings up to 15 people from three separate households. Outdoor residential gatherings up to 50 people.
  • Indoor gatherings involving people from different households are allowed to have up to 25 people.
  • Outdoor gatherings up to 300 people.
  • Entertainment venues like movie theaters, bowling alleys increase indoor capacity to 50%, up to 300 people.
  • Athletic stadiums and arenas that seat 10,000 people or fewer may allow up to 375 attendees. If the seating capacity is above 10,000, they can have 750 people.
  • Casinos allowed to function at 30% indoor capacity.
  • Gyms allowed to operate at 30% capacity with social distancing.

On Friday, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approved a third vaccine, from Johnson & Johnson.

Still unclear why ex-MDHHS director resigned

Whitmer also faced pressure regarding a recently unsurfaced payout to former Director of the MDHHS Robert Gordon, who unexpectedly stepped down from his position in January.

The deal, first published by Detroit Free Press and Detroit News, includes a $155,506 payout to Gordon in exchange that both parties remain confidential about the circumstances of his resignation.

Whitmer did not detail the circumstances of Godron's resignation on Tuesday, nor did she answer a question of whether a payout of this sort is common. Instead, she offered that Gordon simply stepped down and she accepted his resignation.

Gordon published a statement Tuesday about his resignation, saying he is grateful for the time he served.

The Michigan Republican Party has since been critical of this deal, demanding that the circumstances be made public.

Crunchy's makes an appearance

Michael Krueger, owner of Crunchy's in East Lansing, also spoke at the press conference. Krueger detailed the hardship that the hospitality industry has faced since the first lockdown.

"From having to layoff staff when they needed a paycheck the most, investing in PPE, and business renovations to keep patrons safe while pinching every penny, to having to go out and find employees to hire as we slowly open back up, our industry has been through a lot," Krueger said.

He also said that it's important to abide by state guidelines to reopening and asked the public for patience with hospitality staff.

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"While bumping up our capacity, our industry must continue to abide by mask and social distancing rules," Krueger said. "Please remember to be respectful to the staff and the business employees who are doing their best to ensure a safe environment."

New nursing home guidelines

The Residential Care Facilities order has been put into effect immediately and allows for eased restrictions and increased visitation in residential care facilities.

"Under the new guidelines, family members will be able to go and visit their relatives in nursing homes after receiving a negative COVID-19 test," Whitmer said.

Visitation is allowed as long as the facility has not had a new COVID-19 case in the last 14 days. Adult foster care homes licensed for 12 or fewer residents, hospice facilities, substance use disorder residential facilities and assisted-living facilities are encouraged to implement visitor and staff testing protocols. Additionally, residential care facilities are able to resume communal dining and group activities for residents that have recovered from COVID-19 or who have not been exposed.

Vaccine distribution progress

While vaccines are being distributed in Michigan, case numbers and positivity rates are declining as of Tuesday, March 2. Michigan's COVID-19 numbers are as follows:

  • 584 new cases identified on March 1, having trended downward since a Nov. 11 peak of 9,239.
  • 3.7% positivity rate, similar to that at the beginning of October. 
  • 590,217 cumulative confirmed cases.
  • 15,588 confirmed deaths.
  • Black residents are still disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 at 2,291 deaths per million, as compared to 1,298 deaths per million in White residents.
  • 2,964,595 total vaccine doses administered.

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