Statewide lockdowns in the spring caught a lot of people off guard, including business owners who scrambled to adjust their operations on the fly in order to remain open during a pandemic.
This Sunday, when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a three-week pause targeting indoor social gatherings and other group activities, many businesses were more prepared, taking steps weeks in advance to brace themselves for the hit they'll inevitably be taking to their bottom lines.
The partial lockdown implemented by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services takes effect this Wednesday, and lasts for three weeks. Under the order, 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.
Lake City Taphouse co-owner Sylvia VanLeeuwen said she began noticing a drop off in dine-in customers earlier this month, when COVID-19 cases began to rise in the area.
Throughout the summer, VanLeeuwen said they've had excellent sales, thanks to the support of the community and being able to take advantage of an outdoor patio to serve customers, which compensated for the 50% capacity limitation in the main dining area.
Realizing that a second lockdown was possible, VanLeeuwen said she began setting money aside to get them through the winter months.
"I foresee lockdowns into 2021," VanLeeuwen said.
VanLeeuwen said in the spring, they opted not to offer takeout service, which she saw as "spending a dollar to make a penny."
After seeing the support from the community when they reopened, however, VanLeeuwen said they decided to give to-go orders and takeout service — including beer and wine delivery — a try this fall if another lockdown occurred.
While losing dine-in customers will hurt a lot, VanLeeuwen said she thinks they'll be able to make it through this period at about half staffing levels.
In a way, VanLeeuwen said she's relieved about the MDHHS order because her staff have lately been encountering more customers who are increasingly confrontational about wearing masks in the restaurant. If closing the dining area for three weeks safeguards her employees and the community, it will be well worth it, VanLeeuwen said.
While providing takeout service is a strategy some restaurants are using to stay open for the next three weeks, others have decided to shut their doors entirely.
Mike Blackmer, owner of the Dockside Inn and the Pines Sports Bar and Bowling Center in Cadillac West, said he attempted to do takeout in the spring but found it wasn't working financially. This time around, he will be closing the Pines and the Dockside Inn completely during the three-week period.
The decision to close will be particularly tough on the Dockside Inn, Blackmer said, because of all the high-end food they're going to have to throw away. In terms of cost, Blackmer said the amount of food discarded at the Dockside Inn will be about three times as much as the Pines.
As for the bowling alley in the Pines, Blackmer said they had already closed three weeks earlier as a result of a COVID-19 exposure during a tournament on Nov. 1.
Blackmer said he thinks both establishments will be able to make it through the three weeks but if the lockdown lasts much longer than that, things will start to get dicey.
"It's been a hard 2020 for everybody," Blackmer said. "But I do believe the governor (and MDHHS) are making the right move. COVID-19 is in our community and people are getting it quick."
Cadillac Area YMCA CEO/Executive Director Mike Kelso said the order doesn't have too much impact on what the Y is doing, but Monday was spent getting staff and program directors on the same page.
"Monday is business as normal. We show up and do our programs, but then we have to figure out what happens after that," he said. "What it likely is going to mean is our programs will not be happening. We are still going to be open, and that is very different from our perspective than what happened previously."
Earlier in the year, facilities like the Cadillac Area YMCA Dillon Community Center were some of the first places closed and considered to be high risk, according to Kelso. With the center being open since June, Kelso said facilities like the center were able to show that maybe they were not as high-risk as originally thought to be.
He said there have been more than 11,000 visits since they reopened in June, and there have been only three positive cases connected to the center, but all were unrelated and not spread within the Y.
"There are so many unknowns, but we knew (the three people who tested positive) didn't come in contact with each other, were separated by time and no one else was infected," Kelso said. "All the protocols we put in place did their jobs."
Under the 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. “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. Governor Whitmer’s administration has worked around the clock to protect Michigan’s teachers and childcare workers and the other heroes serving on the front lines of the pandemic.
“The data we are seeing is alarming. COVID-19 is impacting every area of our state. Our healthcare systems are becoming overwhelmed, and our contact tracers cannot keep up,‘ said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS. “If we do not act now, we risk thousands more deaths, and even more people having long-term health consequences. The actions we are taking today are the best opportunity we have to get this virus under control.‘