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Time to reopen Michigan restaurants

Monday was a dark day for the thousands of people who work in Michigan’s food and beverage industry. The cooks, servers, bartenders and operators of the bars and restaurants in our communities have borne the brunt of the sacrifices required by the governor’s pandemic orders so far, and there’s still no end in sight.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon have once again extended the ban on indoor dining in Michigan restaurants without giving clear and direct facts about what is driving the decision and what metrics must be met before restaurants can resume doing business indoors.

If you look at the COVID-19 outbreak investigation data provided by DHHS, just 4.4 percent of all outbreaks statewide have been tied to restaurants.

Could it be that the health and safety protocols most Michigan restaurants have been implementing for months have, in fact, been working?

Despite serving hundreds of thousands of people each day, there were just five active investigations in Michigan involving a restaurant patron when the DHHS announced its “pause” on indoor dining on Nov. 15.

The restaurant owners who have reached out to me are absolutely desperate. Many establishments that were thriving before the pandemic are now barely hanging on, and I’m deeply worried about what an extended indoor dining ban could mean for the people who rely on these jobs to put food on the table and pay their bills.

The pandemic has already permanently shuttered about 2,000 dining establishments in Michigan, and the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association estimates that if the current shutdown is prolonged and federal stimulus dollars are not made immediately available, another 6,000 restaurants are likely to permanently close by spring – putting thousands of more people out of work.

If the governor and her administration are going to continue requiring the workers in our food and beverage industry to sacrifice their paychecks to protect others, they deserve transparency about what specific data is being used to motivate the decision. They deserve clear benchmarks about what metrics must be met before dining bans are lifted.

If she can’t provide facts, it’s time to let people get back to work safely.

State Rep. Greg Markkanen of Hancock is serving his first term in the Michigan House representing residents of Baraga, Gogebic, Houghton, Iron, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties, as well as Powell and Ishpeming townships in Marquette County.

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