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Michigan keeps unfairly targeting restaurants

We were pleased to see Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon ease restrictions on a variety of businesses, as well as allow the return of in-person classes at high schools. Yet restaurants remain a target, and it’s decimating the industry.

The state must figure out a better way to balance reducing the spread of COVID-19 and harming such an important sector of the Michigan economy — and leaving many residents without a job this holiday season.

Whitmer unilaterally extended the indoor dining ban through Jan. 15, which means that restaurants across the state will all be prevented from serving patrons indoors, even with restrictions. And as any Michiganian knows, this time of year isn’t conducive to outdoor dining.

The governor (recently) claimed the ban on indoor dining is working and hinted she would consider “aggressive steps” to lift restrictions after the first of the year, ahead of the current order’s expiration date.

That’s exactly what she should do.

The state must figure out a better way to balance reducing the spread of COVID-19 and harming such an important sector of the Michigan economy.

We previously advocated that restaurants should be allowed to reopen on a case-by-case basis as long as they can prove they are taking the right steps to keep patrons and employees safe from COVID-19.

Justin Winslow, who heads the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association, has warned for months the “beleaguered” industry is at risk of even more permanent loss unless the state changes course quickly. A recent survey found 5,600 (33%) of Michigan restaurants say they’ll likely be out of business in six months.

Winslow said it’s frustrating for restaurant owners to see how other similar industries and even mall and hospital cafeterias have been allowed to reopen, and it seems like restaurants are bearing the brunt of what should be a shared sacrifice.

State GOP leaders also point to inconsistencies in the latest order that allows casinos, cinemas, bowling alleys and stadiums to reopen for business but keeps indoor options at restaurants and bars off the table.

“This is a continuation of banning boats with a motor,” says Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, referencing Whitmer’s lockdown order from the spring. “You can go into the theater but you can’t get popcorn. You can go to the bowling alley, but you can’t get a beer. The public views this the same way I do — as absurd rules.”

Whitmer continues to use unilateral, statewide orders through the Health Department, which implies she doesn’t trust restaurant owners and residents to use good judgment and common sense to keep the virus at bay.

“This has bothered me more than anything else I have seen while serving in office — the unequal treatment of a narrowly defined industry,” Shirkey says.

Whitmer and health officials should stop singling out the restaurant industry. Instead, they must offer restaurants that are ensuring their establishments are following COVID guidelines a lifeline.

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