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Friday, January 22, 2021

MDHHS: Indoor dining reopens Feb. 1; caution and focus on enhanced ventilation recommended

As of Feb. 1, MDHHS guidelines will allow some indoor dining and non-residential gatherings. Click on image for larger version. (Photo courtesy michigan.gov)

LANSING -- Following last week’s announcement about the plan to reopen indoor dining, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) released its next epidemic order today, Jan. 22. It continues the department’s fact-based approach to reopening activities, and goes into effect on Monday, Feb. 1. 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. The new order will last three weeks, until Sunday, Feb. 21.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun,  chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS, spoke at a press conference this morning, Jan. 22, on this new order, urging Michiganders to support local restaurants following requirements and precautions. Gov. Whitmer is also requesting funding from the legislature to aid businesses and families.*

"The pause has worked. The efforts we have made together to protect our families, frontline workers and hospitals have dramatically reduced cases and we have saved lives. Now, we are confident that starting February 1, restaurants can resume indoor dining with safety measures in place," said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. "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 six feet of social distancing. We will end this pandemic together."

During a press conference on Friday morning, Jan. 22, MDHHS Chief Deputy for Health Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, left, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speak about the new epidemic order that will allow indoor dining and other easing of restrictions. (Photo courtesy Michigan Executive Office of the Governor)

"We are pleased to see the improvements in case rates, hospitalizations and percent positivity that have allowed us to reopen more activities," said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. "However, we must remain vigilant, especially since we now have a new more easily transmitted variant of this virus present in our state. 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."

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 have allowed for additional relaxing of protocols and reopening of activities. In recent days:

  • Hospital capacity dedicated to COVID-19 patients has been in seven-week decline, with current capacity at 9.9 percent for beds with COVID-19 patients. Peaked at 19.6 percent on Tuesday, Dec. 4.
  • Overall case rates:  Currently at 225 cases per million. Peaked at 740 cases per million on Saturday, Nov. 14, plateaued after a decline to 239 on Friday, Dec. 25 and has been in decline for 11 days.  
  • Positivity rate: currently at 6.8 percent and declining.

Restaurants and bars will be allowed to reopen at 25 percent capacity with up to 100 people. Tables must be six 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. Additionally, contact information must be collected from diners for contact tracing purposes.

"Today’s announcement is possible because of our progress over the last two months," said Robert Gordon, MDHHS director. "Even so, the science is clear that unmasked, indoor activities like 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. 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."

The voluntary MI COVID-19 Safer Dining program allows food service establishments to become certified by having their ventilation system inspected and submitting their inspection report to the state indicating they are optimizing airflow. Once certified, businesses will be featured on the Michigan.gov/COVIDSaferDining website and receive a copy of their certification to post at their establishment 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, Jan. 25, 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.

Indoor residential and non-residential gatherings are limited to 10 people and two households. MDHHS continues to urge families to avoid indoor gatherings or to pick a single other household to interact with consistent with guidance already released by the department. Families are encouraged to stay home as much as possible to maintain momentum and to protect loved ones. Families are also encouraged to Mask Up, Mask Right, using guidance for what masks to wear and how to wear them.

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, like water parks. However, as of Jan. 22, 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 percent 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. 

Information around this outbreak is changing rapidly. The latest information is available at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus. To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine, visit Michigan.gov/COVIDVaccine.

*Editor's Note: A video of this morning's press conference is now available on Gov. Whitmer's Facebook page.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

UPDATED: Houghton County Commissioners to discuss proposed Resolution in Support of Local Business at special meeting

By Michele Bourdieu 

[UPDATE #2: The Jan. 20 meeting previously announced  has been postponed to 3 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22, according to a message we received today, Wednesday, from Houghton County Commissioners Glenn Anderson and Gretchen Janssen.The zoom link has now been announced on the Houghton County Web site

HOUGHTON -- The Houghton County Board of Commissioners will hold a special meeting at 3 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22, on Zoom. New Business will include discussion, and a vote, on a proposed Resolution in Support of Local Business. Public comments will be allowed before and after the New Business. The public is invited to join the Zoom meeting (see below).

At the Jan. 12 regular meeting of the Board, Commissioners Tom Tikkanen and Roy Britz offered to write this Resolution. They were assisted later by Commissioner Glenn Anderson, who shared this proposed Resolution with Keweenaw Now:

RESOLUTION 21-01
IN SUPPORT OF LOCAL BUSINESS

WHEREAS, the Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) is a respiratory disease that can result in serious illness or death; and
WHEREAS, the Houghton County Board of Commissioners recognizes that Covid-19 is having direct impacts on all County residents, impacts which include but are not limited to, physical and mental health care difficulties, educational constraints, and financial strains; and
WHEREAS, to date, the County has had 2268 cases of Covid-19, or one in 16 residents, and 34 deaths, or one in 1076 residents, and
WHEREAS, the Houghton County Board of Commissioners understands that many local businesses have suffered and continue to suffer economic harm due to Covid-19; and
WHEREAS, Governor Whitmer’s administration has now opened the state to most business except, restaurants, bars, night clubs and contact sports; and
WHEREAS, Michigan is currently one of only three states with a statewide ban on indoor dining; and
WHEREAS, we call on Governor Whitmer and the Michigan Legislature offer state grants to financially assist affected small restaurant and bar owners;* and
WHEREAS, Houghton County Board of Commissioners recognizes that our citizens and visitors are resourceful, intelligent and capable of safely supporting businesses while following safe Covid-19 protocols; and
NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Houghton County Board of Commissioners call upon Governor Whitmer and MDHHS Director Gordon to immediately suspend restrictions on in person dining, bars and indoor rinks.**
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that copies of this resolution be transmitted to Governor Whitmer, both Speakers of the House of Representatives and the Senate, along with the Michigan Association of Counties and all Counties within Michigan.

Houghton County Board of Commissioners

To join Zoom meeting:

Click here on County Board Web site and Click on their link.

Meeting ID: Meeting ID: 868 3505 5971
Passcode: 091409
One tap mobile
+13017158592,,86835055971#,,,,*209815# US (Washington D.C)

+13126266799,,86835055971#,,,,*209815# US (Chicago)

Dial by your location+1 301 715 8592 US (Washington D.C)

Click here for the Jan. 22 meeting agenda. 

EDITOR'S NOTES:

* Concerning state grants to assist small businesses, Gov. Whitmer recently announced the Michigan Survival Grant Program:
The State of Michigan has allocated $55 million to implement the Michigan Small Business Survival Grant Program to support the needs of Michigan businesses that have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 virus and the Gatherings and Mask Order (including restaurants, bars, etc.) The application to apply is now open and will close at 12:00 p.m. (Noon) EST on Friday, January 22, 2021.

To learn more and watch a video to help you apply for a grant visit: https://www.michiganbusiness.org/survival/ 

**  In a recent slide show, Gov. Whitmer announced plans to ease some restaurant restrictions by Feb. 1:

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Governors Whitmer, Evers, Walz: Trump Administration must purchase more vaccines, allow states to purchase directly

LANSING -- On Friday, Jan. 15, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, and Minnesota Governor Tim Walz sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar expressing their frustrations with the Trump administration’s botched COVID-19 vaccine distribution and urged him to grant permission for states to directly purchase doses of the safe and effective vaccine. The governors also urged the Trump administration to purchase as many doses of the safe and effective vaccine as possible so states can get more shots in arms in the coming weeks.

"It has become abundantly clear that not only has the Trump administration botched the rollout of the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine, but also that the American people have been misled about these delays," the governors said. "Pfizer just announced that as of yesterday (Jan. 14), they have millions of doses of the vaccine on hand and are waiting on addresses from the Trump administration so they can deliver the vaccine to states. If you are unable or unwilling to give us that supply, we urge you to grant permission for us to directly purchase vaccines so we may distribute them to the people of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota as quickly as possible. Without additional supply or authorization to purchase directly, our states may be forced to cancel plans for public vaccination clinics in the coming weeks, which are expected to vaccinate tens of thousands. It’s time for the Trump administration to do the right thing and help us end this pandemic."

After Governor Whitmer and eight other governors sent a letter to Secretary Azar last week requesting that the federal government distribute the millions of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine doses that are currently being held back by the Trump administration, the administration announced that they will release the available vaccine doses. But according to a Washington Post article published on Jan. 15, federal officials backtracked and are now claiming that the reserve has already been exhausted, despite the fact that we have not seen an increase in our allocations and despite Pfizer’s recent announcement that they currently have millions of doses of the vaccine on hand and are waiting on addresses from the Trump administration so they can deliver the vaccine to states.

To view the full Jan. 15 letter to Secretary Azar, click here.