Michigan restaurant association calls for vaccine prioritization for hospitality workers

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Michigan's restaurant lobbying group says now that the state will allow indoor dining to resume next month, its workers should be given prioritization for COVID-19 vaccines.

"We welcome the governor’s decision to reopen restaurant dining on February 1 as good, if overdue news," Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association (MRLA) president and CEO Justin Winslow said in a statement. "It is now time for this administration to move aggressively towards a more comprehensive reintegration strategy, which includes prioritizing vaccination for the broader hospitality industry and establishing clear metrics for phased reopening to 100 percent capacity of indoor dining."

The MRLA contends that Michigan's hospitality industry "has suffered far worse" from the economic fallout of the pandemic than other industries, losing nearly 3,000 restaurants and employing 200,000 fewer workers than it did a year ago.

"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," Winslow said.

While vaccine prioritization would go a long way for keeping restaurant workers safe, it wouldn't stop the spread of the virus among restaurant patrons — you know, since you have to take your mask off to eat. Michigan's vaccines are being offered in phases, and the general public likely won't be able to roll up their sleeves to get one until at least late spring, according to an FAQ from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). In the meantime, vaccines are being prioritized for health care providers, essential workers, adults over 65, and others with high-risk medical conditions.

The state ordered indoor dining to close in November, citing the surge of COVID-19 cases. On Friday, the state announced it would allow indoor dining to resume on Feb. 1 with some restrictions, including a limit of 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is smaller, as well as a 10 p.m. curfew. Only six people can be seated to a table, which must be at least six feet from others, and guests can't interact with people outside of their table.

But the announcement also came just as the first cases of a highly contagious mutation of the virus that causes COVID-19 began to be detected in Michigan.

Former MDHHS director Robert Gordon announced his resignation later on Friday.

In a press release sent earlier that day, Gordon cautioned against indoor dining.

"Today's announcement is possible because of our progress over the last two months," Gordon said. "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 MRLA has been applying pressure on the state to reopen restaurants. In November it joined the owners of metro Detroit's Townhouse and Prime + Proper restaurants and the Suburban Inns hotelier group to file a lawsuit against Gordon, seeking a halt to the state's ban on indoor dining. A federal judge denied the request in December.

A number of studies have found indoor dining to be one of the riskiest public activities. A study by Stanford, Northwestern University, Microsoft Research, and Chan Zuckerberg Biohub analyzed the cell phone data from 98 million people across 10 U.S. cities last spring and found indoor dining was about four times riskier than activities like going to the gym. And an earlier study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that adults who tested positive for COVID-19 were twice as likely to have dined at a restaurant two weeks before showing symptoms.

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About The Author

Lee DeVito

Leyland "Lee" DeVito grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, where he read Metro Times religiously due to teenaged-induced boredom. He became a contributing writer for Metro Times in 2009, and Editor in Chief in 2016. In addition to writing, he also supplies occasional illustrations. His writing has been published...
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