Gov. Whitmer May 18

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announces the partial reopening of Northern Michigan on Monday, May 18. 

(The Center Square) – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the partial reopening of restaurants, retail businesses, offices, and bars in Northern Michigan starting on Friday.

Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-92 loosening restrictions on regions six (the Traverse City region) and eight (the Upper Peninsula) of her MI Safe Start Plan. The regional map is here.

Those who work in an office but can't complete their duties remotely can return to work beginning Friday. 

Restaurants and bars must limit capacity to half of its standard seating, follow social distancing and cleanliness precautions, and make employees wear masks.

Local governments can choose to take more strict precautions, such as restricting business operations or limiting restaurants to outside seating only.

The order allows small social gatherings up to 10 people in regions six and eight.

“This is a big step, but we must all remember to continue doing our part to protect ourselves and our families from the spread of COVID-19,” Whitmer said in a statement. “It’s crucial that all businesses do everything in their power to protect their workers, customers, and their families."

Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun attributed the progress to lowered COVID-19 case and death counts. 

“The data shows that these regions in Michigan are seeing consistent encouraging trends when it comes to the number of cases, deaths, and the percent of tests that are positive for COVID-19,” Khaldun said.

All businesses that reopen must adopt safety precautions, including providing COVID-19 training, how to report unsafe working conditions, and how to notify the business of suspected COVID-19 cases. 

“We are thankful to Governor Whitmer as today marks an important first step of reintegrating restaurants into the fabric of our daily lives,” Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, said.

“Restaurants in the U.P. and northern Michigan understand that with their opportunity comes an extraordinary responsibility to operate in a manner that ensures the safety of their guests and their employees. I believe they are up to the challenge.”

The order still bans renting short-term rental properties unless that person is aiding in the COVID-19 pandemic response.

COVID-19 struck Michigan hard in Metro Detroit but barely touched some rural counties, and Whitmer's restrictions on businesses she deemed nonessential was widely criticized. 

As of Monday, the UP's 15 counties have 93 COVID-19 cases with 15 deaths while Macomb and Wayne counties and the city of Detroit have 25,485 cases and 2,966 deaths. 

House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R- Levering, welcomed the long-awaited decision.

“This is a positive step that we’ve been requesting for over a month now, but the vast majority of Michigan is still held captive in the nation’s worst lockdown. Cases have fallen, our hospital beds are nowhere near full bed capacity and the curve was flattened weeks ago,” Chatfield tweeted.

Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, posted on Facebook that Whitmer didn’t include UP lawmakers in her plans.

“The Emperor has informed lobbyists in Lansing and labor union leaders, but not told me nor other UP Legislators. Your Representatives and Senator had no input on this decision,” he wrote.

“I am glad that we can stop the unfettered flow of $ flooding across our southern border with Wisconsin. UP restaurants and bars will be at 50% capacity while WI bars are at 100% until more dictates are received.”

Staff Reporter

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.