Michigan extends COVID-19 restrictions with limits...

Michigan extends COVID-19 restrictions with limits to indoor dining and gatherings

Christmas is not canceled (but you’re advised to scale it back).

gov gretchen whitmer announces extension to Michigan's COVID restrictions on Dec. 7, 2020.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services extended COVID-19 restrictions for 12 days beyond the initial expiration date of Dec. 8 under a new epidemic order issued Monday. 

The “pause” puts limits on in-person learning and businesses including restaurants, bars, theaters, bowling alleys, and casinos, which will be prohibited from operating indoor service until Dec. 20. Restrictions on household gatherings and mask requirements are also extended under the order.

“We cannot risk overwhelming our hospitals further, and that’s why our hospital systems implored the Department of Health and Human Services to extend the pause,” Whitmer said. “And so we’re going to give it 12 more days.”

Scroll down for an FAQ on what’s allowed and what’s shut down under the epidemic corder.

The extension of the epidemic order includes several changes, banning food courts and dining areas located within retail stores, libraries, or museums, and prohibiting gatherings at indoor and outdoor ice skating rinks under most circumstances. 

High schools are still prohibited from operating in-person instruction, but the new order permits gatherings at closed-campus boarding schools. Certain types of other technical and career services can now be offered in-person at high schools and colleges. 

MDHHS Director Robert Gordon outlined three metrics that the state is watching as a basis for deciding whether to relax restrictions: the percentage of hospital beds occupied with COVID-19 patients, the average number of cases, and the positivity rate for testing. Since the Nov. 18 order, hospital bed occupancy and average case numbers have flattened or declined somewhat, but the percentage positivity increased in the state last week, now standing at 14.% as of Monday.

“We’re looking for flat or declining hospitalizations, fewer cases, lower positivity,” Gordon said, adding, “Let me be clear. There’s no formula. One thing we’ve learned is that progress against COVID is hard to earn and easy to lose.” 

The first businesses likely to be allowed to reopen would be those where masks can be worn indoors, like bowling alleys and movie theaters (but food concessions would likely remain closed). “If progress continues, we will eagerly reopen venues beyond those I’ve described, but we’re not ready to do that now, and it’s unlikely we’ll be ready to do something in 12 days,” Gordon said.

State executive medical officer Joneigh Khaldun advised Michiganders to begin educating themselves about the vaccine options and making a plan for getting vaccinated, adding that more than 280 locations have enrolled to participate in the state’s vaccination program.

“Overall, I am very hopeful,” Khaldun said. “While I’m concerned about our very high rates and our hospitalizations, and our positivity rate remains alarmingly high, we have the tools we need to fight this pandemic.”

Whitmer is advising Michiganders to stay home for the holidays. “No matter what we show in the next 12 days, I am discouraging people from gathering for Christmas,” she said. “It doesn’t mean we cancel Christmas — it means we celebrate in a responsible way… to make sure that next year’s celebration can be like last year’s, where we have everyone together.”

Here are the restrictions spelled out in the epidemic order:

What’s new in the latest COVID-19 order? How is it different from the stay-at-home order from the beginning of the pandemic?

The new Dec. 7 epidemic order extends restrictions that first went into effect Nov. 18 for 12 additional days. It is almost exactly the same as the initial three-week pause, with small adjustments that allow ice skating and certain types of in-person instruction for schools.

The epidemic orders from MDHHS are different from the emergency orders issued in the spring by Whitmer — the Michigan Supreme Court struck down Whitmer’s authority to issue emergency orders on Oct. 12. A lawsuit brought by Michigan restaurants to overturn the ban on indoor dining was rejected by a federal judge last week.

What businesses and activities must pause operations?

The order requires some schools and businesses to close to in-person gatherings and puts additional restrictions on others. Here’s what is not allowed: 

  • In-person learning at high schools,
  • In-person classes and activities at colleges and universities,
  • In-person work at offices when work can be done from home,
  • Indoor dining at restaurants and bars,
  • Organized sports, except professional sports,
  • Theaters, movie theaters, stadiums, arenas,
  • Bowling centers and water parks,
  • Gatherings at ice skating rinks,
  • Bingo halls, casinos, arcades, and
  • Group fitness classes.

The order further notes that no gatherings are allowed at entertainment venues and recreational facilities, such as auditoriums, arenas, banquet halls, cinemas, conference centers, concert halls, sporting venues, stadiums, theaters, amusement parks, arcades, bingo halls, bowling alleys, casinos, night clubs, skating rinks, strip clubs, water parks and trampoline parks.

What is allowed to stay open? 

These businesses and gatherings are allowed to continue operating under the health department order:

  • Retail stores, 
  • Preschool through 8th grade (up to individual districts),
  • Childcare,
  • Manufacturing, construction, other work that is impossible to do remotely,
  • Public transit,
  • Hair salons, barber shops, other personal services,
  • Gyms and pools: for individual exercise, not group classes,
  • Restaurants and bars (outdoor dining, takeout and delivery),
  • Professional sports, without spectators and pursuant to other state guidelines,
  • Parks and outdoor recreation,
  • Funerals with up to 25 attendees,
  • Health care facilities, and
  • Places of worship.

The extension to the order announced Monday additionally makes allowances for CPR and swimming instruction classes, as well as “proctored, nationally-administered admissions and certification examinations that are not available remotely, provided that examinees are spaced no less than 12 feet apart.”

The order notes that medical offices, veterinary clinics and other businesses must have a system in place to make sure people (from different households) can remain 6 feet apart. It advises that the protocol must include a policy that patients wait in their cars before their appointments. 

Two-household gatherings and outdoor gatherings with up to 25 people are also still allowed. Masks are required in all instances. 

Can I host or attend indoor gatherings?

For the most part, group gatherings for social purposes are prohibited outside the home, and discouraged inside private homes. Residential gatherings cannot include more than 10 people, or people from more than two households.

The state guidance advises you to avoid indoor gatherings if at all possible and limit any indoor gatherings to one other household only while ensuring that each member of that household is practicing care. This means choosing one household and sticking with that household, not seeing different households on different days.

Best practices for indoor gatherings outlined by the state also include:

  • Keep visits short,
  • Keep your mask on,
  • Use indoor voices (avoiding shouting or cheering),
  • Stay six feet apart, and
  • Don’t share utensils.

How should I form a pod?

To form a pod, you should select one other household that is not engaging in risky behaviors and has committed to following safety measures such as washing hands, wearing masks and minimizing trips outside of the home. You should choose one household to pod with and avoid other households for the duration of the order. Here is more guidance on how to form a pod.

Are outdoor gatherings allowed?

Outdoor gatherings are limited to 25 people or fewer under the epidemic order. At residential spaces, those people must be from no more than three households. 

At public venues without fixed seatings, a 25-person limit is still the max, with no more than 20 people per 1,000 square feet. If there is fixed seating at the venue, attendance is capped at 20% of the seating capacity up to 25 people. 

Where do I have to wear a mask?

You must wear a face mask at all gatherings, inside or outside.

Organizers and operators of events, workplaces, businesses, schools and any other places where people gather must require all participants to wear masks and deny entry to anyone who refuses. An individual who is not wearing a face mask must state that they are covered by an exception.

Masks are strongly encouraged even for those who aren’t required to wear one, except in children under 2. Exceptions to the requirement include people who:

  • Cannot medically tolerate a mask,
  • Are drinking or eating at a restaurant or gathering,
  • Are exercising outdoors and can maintain 6 feet of distance from others,
  • Are swimming,
  • Are undergoing medical treatment that requires removing a mask,
  • Are communicating with someone where seeing the speakers’ mouth is essential (such as if a person is deaf),
  • Are working in public safety,
  • Are part of a religious service,
  • Or are giving a speech where the audience is at least 6 feet away. 

Do children have to wear face masks?

Child care facilities, schools and other organized gatherings of children must require masks for children ages two and up on school buses and other transportation. Children ages four and up must wear masks in hallways and common areas. Children five and up must wear masks in classrooms and when gathered in other indoor settings likes homes or cabins. 

Are schools open?

Under the order, high schools statewide must implement entirely remote learning. There is an exception for students who are English Language Learners or are in special education programs. 

New: Career and technical services can be offered in person, under the extension to the order announced Monday, if they’re required for an educational certification and can’t be conducted remotely.

New: Gatherings at closed-campus boarding schools for the purpose of conducting in-person instruction are permitted, subject to local health department and school district decisions on remote learning.

For grades K-8, the public health order leaves the decision to hold in-person classes up to individual local health departments and school districts. 

Gatherings for sports and extracurricular activities are prohibited for grades K-12.

What is allowed? Gatherings “for the purpose of providing services to students in need, including food distribution, access to internet connectivity, physical and mental health care services and child care.”

What about colleges and universities?

College and universities cannot hold in-person classes, extracurriculars and events under the order. There are some particular allowances for organized sports that comply with additional MDHHS guidance â€” still, no spectators are allowed. 

What’s new in the order announced Monday, Dec. 7: Technical education services (like manufacturing, trades and cosmetology) can be offered in-person if training can’t be completed remotely.

Can I go to work?

The order leaves open work in occupations that cannot be done from home, such as manufacturing, construction, health care and some limited types of office work. The vast majority of office work must be remote. 

Can I go out to restaurants?

Restaurants and bars are allowed to remain open for outdoor dining, takeout and delivery. If you’re dining at a restaurant outdoors, you must have no more than six people per table, and tables must be spaced at least 6 feet apart. 

Can I get a haircut or other personal care service?

Salons, spas, tattoo and piercing parlors are allowed to remain open, as well as places offering massages, tanning, and other personal care services. However, services that require removing face masks are prohibited. You must make an appointment, and businesses can’t let people gather in waiting areas. 

I can still go grocery shopping and to other stores, right?

Yes — retail stores are allowed to remain open (though check with individual stores for self-imposed closures or other restrictions).

According to the order, stores (as well as libraries and museums) can’t exceed 30% of fire marshal occupancy limits for gatherings. If maintaining 30% occupancy or less would mean the business had to close altogether, one person is allowed to enter at a time. 

Stores must have entry and checkout lines with markings indicating where people should stand to maintain 6 feet of distance. 

Can I ice skate?

New: You can skate individually or with one-on-one instruction at outdoor and indoor ice skating rinks, though gatherings are not allowed and no more than 20 people per 1,000 square feet can be present at a time. Open skate hours are only allowed at outdoor ice rinks.

Will gyms be open?

Gyms will be open at 25% capacity for individual exercise only, with a minimum of 12 feet between each workout station. All group fitness classes are prohibited. Pools are also limited to 25% capacity.

Are organized sports still allowed?

Organized sports are suspended. Professional or college sports that meet what Gordon termed “extraordinarily high standards for mitigation” may meet for practice and competition. Those standards include the enhanced testing regimen specified in the Additional Mitigation Measures for Safer Athletic Practice and Play without the use of Face Coverings section of MDHHS guidance on Additional Measures for Safer Athletic Practice and Play. Spectator gatherings are strictly prohibited during the duration of the order.

Can I attend or hold a funeral?

Yes. Funeral services are allowed with up to 25 participants. 

What gatherings require contact tracing? Do I have to share my personal information? 

Exercise facilities and personal care service providers (aka, spas, salons, masseuses, etc) aren’t allowed to open unless they track customer information to make contact tracing easier in the event someone tests positive for COVID-19. They must also deny entry to people who don’t provide names and phone numbers.

Providers of in-home services (like home repair and cleaning) must also keep records of client services and contact info. 

Last month, the state relaxed a requirement for restaurants and bars to deny entry to customers who refuse to share their information. Eateries are required to ask for customer info, and are encouraged to deny service to anyone who refuses, but they are not required to turn those customers away. 

How will the order be enforced?

The MDHHS order authorizes local health departments to enforce it with local law enforcement officers’ involvement, who can investigate potential violations. Violating the order is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 6 months, or a fine of not more than $200.00, or both.

More than a dozen businesses have received fines or had permits and liquor licenses suspended by state officials since the epidemic order went into effect last month.

Kate Abbey-Lambertz contributed.

Nina Misuraca Ignaczak is a contributing editor for Detour Detroit. She is the founder and executive editor of Planet Detroit, a digital media startup that tells Detroit’s environmental stories while building a community of engaged readers who are informed and empowered to act personally and publicly. She is an award-winning freelance journalist who writes, edits and produces stories about the environment, place and identity. Her recent work has been published by Detour Detroit, Belt Magazine, HuffPost, Detroit Free Press, WDET, Crains Detroit Business, Business Insider, Curbed Detroit and Model D. Prior to her career in journalism, she worked in urban planning in the local government and nonprofit sectors. She has a Master of Science in Natural Resource Ecology and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Twitter: @ninaignaczak