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Indoor dining set to reopen Feb. 1

MARQUETTE — Michigan bars and restaurants will reopen for indoor dining at 25% capacity on Feb. 1, with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services releasing its new epidemic order on Friday.

The order will allow for indoor dining at restaurants with certain requirements; concessions at casinos, movie theaters and stadiums; personal services requiring mask removal; and non-residential gatherings of up to 10 people from two households, according to the State Emergency Operations Center.

The new order will last until Feb. 21.

“The pause has worked,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. “The efforts we have made together to protect our families, front-line workers and hospitals have dramatically reduced cases and we have saved lives. Now, we are confident that starting Feb. 1, restaurants can resume indoor dining with safety measures in place.

“Michigan continues to be a national leader in fighting this virus, and we must continue working to keep it that way. One of the most important things Michiganders can do is to make a plan to get the safe and effective vaccine when it’s available to you. And as always, mask up and maintain 6 feet of social distancing. We will end this pandemic together.”

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS, said people must remain vigilant, especially since there is a new, more easily transmitted variant of the coronavirus in Michigan.

The MDHHS and the downstate Washtenaw County Health Department on Thursday announced the detection at a University of Michigan laboratory of two additional cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, which were identified in two adult females living in Washtenaw County who were in close contact with the first person in Michigan to be diagnosed with the COVID-19 variant.

All three individuals are associated with the University of Michigan.

The cases were among individuals who were close contacts of an adult woman living in Washtenaw County who tested positive for the variant after traveling to the United Kingdom, where B.1.1.7 originated.

“This is not the time to let our guard down and Michiganders should minimize their risk by avoiding gatherings, wearing masks properly, social distancing and making a plan to get their vaccine when it is their turn,” Khaldun said in a statement regarding the order about indoor dining.

MDHHS had been closely monitoring three metrics for stabilization or declines over the past several weeks. Michigan continues to see improvements in these metrics, which has allowed for additional relaxing of protocols and reopening of activities. In recent days:

≤ Hospital capacity dedicated to COVID-19 patients has been in a seven-week decline, with current capacity at 9.9% for beds with COVID-19 patients, peaking at 19.6% on Dec. 4;

≤ Overall case rates are currently at 225 cases per million. After peaking at 740 cases per million on Nov. 14, cases plateaued after a decline to 239 on Dec. 25 and has been in decline for 11 days; and

≤ Positivity rate is currently at 6.8% and declining.

The order regarding indoor dining comes with precautions.

Restaurants and bars will be allowed to reopen at 25% capacity with up to 100 people. Tables must be 6 feet apart with no more than six people per table. Outdoor tents with four sides are permitted under these same rules. Bars and restaurants must close by 10 p.m. Also, contact information must be collected from diners for contact tracing purposes.

MDHHS Director Robert Gordon, who has resigned from the position, stressed that unmasked, indoor activities such as dining and drinking are still a source of high risk around COVID-19.

“The safest course remains to support your favorite restaurant with carryout, delivery or outdoor dining,” Gordon said in a statement. “If individuals choose to eat out, there are two things they can do to make it much safer: Go out only with members of their own household and choose a restaurant participating in the MI COVID-19 Safer Dining certification program.”

Whitmer on Friday appointed Elizabeth Hertel as the new MDHHS director. Hertel currently serves as the senior chief deputy director for administration for MDHHS, where she oversees external relations and communications, finance and administration, legislative services, legal affairs, policy and planning, strategic integration, organizational services, workforce engagement, and community and faith engagement.

The voluntary MI COVID-19 Safer Dining program allows food service establishments to become certified by having their ventilation systems inspected and submitting their inspection reports to the state indicating they are optimizing airflow.

Once certified, businesses will be featured on the Michigan.gov/covidsaferdining website and receive copies of their certification to post at their establishments to alert diners of their participation.

Funding is proposed for food service establishments to participate as part of the $10 million included in the recent supplemental budget request for restaurant supports administered by the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Two webinars will be hosted on Monday to provide additional information about the Safer Dining certification program: one at noon for HVAC contractors interested in conducting inspections, and one at 3 p.m. for food service establishments interested in becoming certified. More information will be available at Michigan.gov/covidsaferdining.

The epidemic order continues to temporarily pause indoor contact sports and other venues and activities where participants have close physical contacts and are not consistently masked, such as water parks. However, as of Friday, stadiums can allow up to 500 people at venues that seat over 10,000 people and stadiums that seat less than 10,000 are allowed to be at 20% capacity, up to 250 people. This will allow for additional attendance at high school football finals being hosted this weekend.

As before, employees who work in jobs that cannot be performed from home can continue to go to work, while employees who can work from home should continue to do so.

Cambensy responds to order

State Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, wrote a lengthy post on Facebook on Friday, indicating her disappointment with the new epidemic order.

“Most restaurants will not open up at 25%,” Cambensy said in the post. “This continues to be a political game. My office just got confirmation that Pictured Rocks (National Lakeshore) broke their record, having over a million visitors from this past summer, with people coming from all over the country, and indoor dining at restaurants remained open at 50% for months with no major outbreaks.”

She said the lack of transparency from a governor toward restaurants is “astounding” to her.

“Show me the data if there is a risk at restaurants that the U.P. should avoid, or show me that our health care system is compromised due to high cases, and I’ll agree that we should take action,” Cambensy said.

She agreed the initial pause helped in November, but now believes it has become a political power struggle.

“We need to allow restaurants to reopen immediately at 50% and monitor as we go,” Cambensy said. “If we get another spike we can adjust. With the vaccination rates going up every single day, too, there is no excuse not to.”

Following Whitmer’s announcement of the new order, the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association issued a statement on Friday, saying it would focus on fighting for fewer restrictions.

Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association, also issued a Friday statement.

“We welcome the governor’s decision to repen restaurant dining on Feb. 1 as good, if overdue, news,” Winslow said.

He said it is time for the Whitmer administration to “move aggressively” toward a more comprehensive reintegration strategy that includes prioritizing vaccination for the broader hospitality industry and establishing “clear metrics” for phased reopening to 100% capacity of indoor dining.

“The hospitality industry and its sizable workforce has suffered far worse than its peers from this pandemic, losing nearly 3,000 restaurants and employing 200,000 fewer workers than a year prior,” Winslow said. “It also stands to gain the most from a proficient and expedited vaccination schedule, which is why we contend that there is no more important step the governor can take to get Michigan’s economy back on track than restoring public confidence in Michiganders’ ability to safely dine and travel.”

NMU diverts gloves from landfill

Northern Michigan University announced it has diverted 287 pounds of glove waste from landfills during the fall semester.

The NMU Safety Department began participating in the RightCycle personal protection equipment recycling program because it anticipated increased reliance on single-use gloves as a COVID-19 precaution this academic year.

The RightCycle program, sponsored by Kimberly-Clark, collects previously hard-to-recycle items such as protective clothing, safety glasses and nitrile gloves and turns them into new consumer products.

“We purchased 100 RightCycle collection bins to distribute across campus, starting with ‘high-use’ labs we identified in Chemistry, Biology and Nursing,” said Kim Hegmegee, occupational and environmental health specialist in NMU’s Safety Department, in a news release.

Collection bins were also used for COVID-19 mass testing events in the Northern Center and placed in dining and custodial areas, she said.

“With the additional use of gloves across campus, we wanted to make a positive impact in some way and this was the perfect program,” Hegmegee said. “The first semester went great, with 287 pounds of gloves collected. I expect that to nearly double this semester, as we have distributed more collection bins.”

NMU departments typically use 175,000 gloves annually, but in response to COVID-19, NMU increased its order to 250,000 gloves.

Hegmegee said the NMU Safety Department collects the used gloves and stores them in gaylord pallet boxes. When the boxes are full, they are shipped to a Kimberly-Clark recycling partner in Millwood, West Virginia, where they are processed into plastic pellets and molded into patio furniture. Other products made from PPE include flower pots and plastic shelving.

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