GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Michigan is tightening its restrictions on gatherings after linking more than 30 known outbreaks to things like family events, weddings and funerals.
Starting immediately, indoor venues with fixed seating can only allow a max of 50 guests at a time, down from 500, and restaurants can only seat six people per table.
That dining experience is about to get more personal thanks to COVID contact tracing. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says bars and restaurants will need to start collecting names and phone numbers of patrons.
That collection will start Monday, November 2nd.
Some say it’s just another way to single out the restaurant and bar industry with no real proof that they’re a problem, and at a time when their capacity is already at 50%.
“Again, what’s this data gathering if the data is not truthful, how do we know how good it is,” asked Michigan Licensed Beverage Association Executive Director Scott Ellis.
His association worked with the state on the new guidelines, but he says that does not always mean the two sides agree.
He tells FOX 17 that it’s also not appropriate to pin COVID increases on restaurants and bars.
“Our frontline servers have already had trouble dealing with masks and mandates and mandating masks,” he said. “We did de-escalation training and all kinds of other things to help with that and now we’re taking to the next level. We have to gather someone’s personal information?”
The state will require all restaurants and bars that offer dine-in food service to maintain accurate records of names and phone numbers of people who eat on-site along with the date and time they walked in.
“We just told them ‘look get names and phone numbers and write it on a piece of paper’ because if the health department calls you and says, ‘hey someone came in on this date I need the list’ they have to provide it,” said Ellis.
If customers do not want to give that information they can be refused service.
“You accept it when you’re ordering out it’s just something you have to do and then how many people don’t want to give it when they order out and how truthful is it? We don’t know,” said Ellis. “And I think when you’re going to sit down at a restaurant you just don’t expect someone to take your name and number because you’re coming to have a drink or a burger.”
On Thursday, MDHHS updated its “Gatherings and Face Mask Order”.
The agency says the state now has a positivity rate of 5.5% up from 2% with 12 outbreaks in the state associated with bars or restaurants.
Other extensions include no more than 50 people at indoor gatherings without fixed seating, and no more than six people at seated tables at bars, restaurants, and indoor non-residential gatherings.
The president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association says:
“We appreciate and respect the efforts of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to keep all Michiganders safe as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Michigan. We maintain, however, that a restaurant industry-specific contact tracing mandate lacks merit given existing science and data.
The COVID-19 outbreak investigation data collected by the MDHHS continues to show minimal transmission from restaurant dining, despite the rising caseloads, representing only about 2% of all cases the state is investigating. In relation to the size and scope of the industry, which serves millions of people every day and employs several hundred thousand more, this well-intended effort is more likely to result in job loss, foreclosure and fewer restaurants than it will prevent transmission.
Restaurants across this state have risen to the challenge thrust upon them in 2020, providing a place for people to safely gather, eat a great meal and feel, well, human. We remain confident that if given the opportunity, restaurants will continue to offer this experience in a safer environment than alternatives that are less regulated and less sanitized.”
Ellis says their members have done the same with masks, social distancing and PPE including sanitizer and he hopes customers know they’re just following the law.
“Because these servers are just doing what they have to do to make a living. The bar and restaurant owners are doing what they need to do to stay alive and stay open. So, please, be respectful to them when they ask for this and don’t take it out on them because they are just caught in the middle,” said Ellis.
It’s still unclear how long businesses have to keep the info but Ellis hopes to get clarity on that soon.
Those not following the rules face a $1,000 fine.
As for those outbreaks, state officials say nearly 20 others have been linked to churches which are exempt from enforcement of the order.
In terms of the constitutionality of this order, MDHHS says: "The Michigan Public Health Code, as passed by the Legislature, gives the department director broad authority to take actions via emergency order to protect the public health during an epidemic, which includes prohibiting the gathering of people and other procedures during an epidemic to insure continuation of essential public health services and enforcement of health laws."