Updated epidemic orders inch Michigan closer to normalcy

MDHHS expands restaurant capacity, allows for larger gatherings

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State officials reeled back epidemic restrictions this week to allow for larger household gatherings and expanded capacity limits at bars, restaurants and other larger private venues.

Beginning Friday, bars and restaurants can shift from 25% capacity to 50% capacity, up to 100 people. Tables of up to six people still must be 6 feet apart. The 10 p.m. curfew will be 11 pm. Indoor residential gatherings will also be upped this week to allow for up to 15 people from three households, while outdoor residential gatherings can include a new, expanded cap of 50 people.

Indoor non-residential gatherings will be permitted up to 25 people, potentially allowing public meetings — like the Lansing City Council — and other small indoor gatherings to resume. Outdoor gatherings will be upped to 300 people, also allowing larger outdoor events to resume.

Additionally, indoor entertainment venues will be capped at 50% capacity, up to 300 people. Outdoor entertainment venues will be able to host up to 1,000 patrons. Exercise facilities and casinos will be able to operate at 30% capacity with social distancing restrictions. Retail will be allowed to open at 50% capacity. Stadiums will also be able to host crowds of up to 750 people.

The new orders also included expanded visitation opportunities at residential care facilities, which have now had their staff and residents nearly all vaccinated over the last few months.

The order continues to pause other venues and activities where participants have close physical contact and are not consistently masked, like water parks, through at least April 19. As before, employees who can work from home are encouraged to continue to do so during that time.

The rollback corresponds with improving pandemic trends, but it appears to contradict at least some advice from national experts weary that new variants of the virus could result in more outbreaks despite increases in vaccination efforts, according to reports in The Detroit News.

In related news…

Robert Gordon, the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services who abruptly resigned in January, was paid more than $150,000 as part of a deal with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that he keep quiet about the circumstances that led to his departure, according to reports in The Detroit News. Asked at a press conference if it was “hush money,” Whitmer said, “I really bristle at that characterization.”

Former Deputy Director Sarah Esty also reportedly reached a separation deal with the state.

Fewer babies appear to have been born during the COVID-19 pandemic in Greater Lansing, reports the Lansing State Journal. Reports show 343 fewer babies — an 8% drop — were born at Sparrow Hospital in 2020 compared to 2019. McLaren also reportedly tracked a 5% decline.

Whitmer announced a three-month extension for liquor licensees to renew their 2021 licenses, extending the annual deadline from April 30 to July 30. License holders are still encouraged to renew their licenses soon (and online) to avoid any potential mailing delays.

East Lansing extended requirements that face masks be worn in all outdoor public spaces across most of the downtown area through at least May 16. Violations can result in $25 fines.

Meanwhile, Michigan State University plans to ease some restrictions on campus while COVID-19 cases continue to decline following students’ return to campus. An enhanced social distancing directive is set to be lifted as soon as Sunday.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine this week, bolstering confidence among state officials that 70% of residents will be vaccinated as soon as possible at a rate of 50,000 shots every day.

Whitmer announced the expansion of the Classroom Heroes grant program last week to include $2.5 million in grant funding for the Great Start Readiness Program and Head Start. Included in the funding are individual grants up to $500 for adult and special education classroom teachers.

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