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 The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) issued a new emergency order Sunday, Nov. 15, that enacts a three-week pause targeting indoor social gatherings and other group activities in an effort to curb rapidly rising COVID-19 infection rates.

 Under this order, indoor residential gatherings are limited to two households at any one time. However, MDHHS strongly urges families to pick a single other household to interact with over the next three weeks, consistent with new guidance released by the department.

 The order is aimed at limiting residential and non-residential gatherings where COVID-19 spreads rapidly.

 Bars and restaurants will be open for outdoor dining, carry-out and delivery only. Gyms will remain open for individual exercise with strict safety measures in place.

 Casinos, movie theaters and group exercise classes will be closed.

 Professional and college sports meeting extraordinary standards for risk mitigation may continue without spectators, however all other organized sports must stop.

 Colleges and high schools may proceed with remote learning, but must end in-person classes.  

 “In the spring, we listened to public health experts, stomped the curve, and saved thousands of lives together. Now, we must channel that same energy and join forces again to protect our families, frontline workers and small businesses,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in her press statement Sunday evening. “Right now, there are thousands of cases a day and hundreds of deaths a week in Michigan and the number is growing. If we don’t act now, thousands more will die, and our hospitals will continue to be overwhelmed. We can get through this together by listening to health experts once again and taking action right now to slow the spread of this deadly virus.”

 “Indoor gatherings are the greatest source of spread, and sharply limiting them is our focus,” said MDHHS Director Robert Gordon. “The order is targeted and temporary, but a terrible loss of life will be forever unless we act. By coming together today, we can save thousands of lives.”

 Sunday’s order, which takes effect Wednesday, Nov. 18, is not a blanket stay-home action like in the spring. The order leaves open work that cannot be performed from home, including for manufacturing, construction and health occupations. Outdoor gatherings, outdoor dining and parks remain open. Individualized activities with distancing and face masks are still allowed: retail shopping; public transit; restaurant takeout; personal-care services such as haircuts, by appointment; and individualized exercise at a gym, with extra spacing between machines. 

 Michigan has seen fewer outbreaks associated with elementary and middle schools, and younger children are most in need of in-person instruction. In-person K-8 schooling may continue if it can be done with strong mitigation, including mask requirements, based on discussion between local health and school officials. Childcare also remains open to support working parents. Throughout this crisis, Michigan’s teachers and childcare workers have served on the front lines ensuring support for working parents and educating our children.

Federal lawsuit filed

 The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association (MRLA) filed a lawsuit Nov. 17, against Robert Gordon, in his capacity as the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) director, to block the ban on dine-in service. They’re seeking an emergency preliminary injunction to resume on-premise indoor food and beverage consumption.

Michigan Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA) responds

 “Our number one priority has been the safety of servers and patrons. We have been following all the rules. We’ve been wearing masks, social distancing and sanitizing relentlessly,” said MLBA Executive Director Scott Ellis. “We have to figure out a way to operate.”

 According to data collected by the MLBA in a recent survey, one-third of bars are currently on the verge of closing permanently. In another one to three months, another 29 percent will be in the same situation.

 “The hospitality industry went from being shutdown, to operating at 50 percent, and now we’re back to closing our doors again. Our industry has been devastated and this is just another nail in the coffin for many businesses,” Ellis said. “As the governor said, we’re at a precipice and there is a need for action. If we’re being told to sit back, be patient and not act, we expect our leaders to have a plan. We expect our legislature and governor to be taking the steps necessary to ensure that our industry survives.

 “Our state is about to see a massive spike in unemployment with Thanksgiving and Christmas right around the corner. Our business owners and their staff will be financially devastated going into the holidays.”

 The full order can be read here online with this story.

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