Michigan relaxes rules on sports, colleges, but keeps restrictions on indoor-dining until February

Michigan's health department is updating its COIVD-19 rules, allowing for non-contact sports and indoor group exercises to resume while also indicating plans to reopen restaurants to indoor dining in a few weeks.

The updated coronavirus rules come as the state has measured declines in hospital capacity and cases per million while noting a plateau in the positivity rate of COVID-19 tests.

Gathering limits remain at a strict 10 persons per household, however - an indication that the coronavirus is still infecting at levels higher than what health experts want to see. 

"We are reopening cautiously because caution is working to save lives.  The new order allows group exercise and non-contact sports, always with masks and social distancing, because in the winter it’s not as easy to get out and exercise and physical activity is important for physical and mental health," said MDHHS Director Robert Gordon.

The restriction of indoor dining was extended until Feb. 1, at which point the state says it is planning on easing rules on restaurants and bars.

"The working plan is to open indoor dining with mitigation measures, capacity limits and a curfew on February 1, but the ultimate decision depends on data continuing to stabilize," read a press release from the governor.

More details on dining indoors will be available next week.

Along with the relaxing of rules on indoor group exercise and non-contact sports, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said college students could return to campus on Jan. 18 for the restart of in-person learning. 

As far as the numbers go, they are on the positive side, said Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. However, they are still too high:

  • Hospital capacity for COVID-19 patients has been in 13-day decline, with current capacity is at 12% for beds with COVID-19 patients. Peaked at 19.6% on Tuesday, Dec. 4. 
  • Overall case rates: increasing, currently at 266 cases per million. Peaked at 740 cases per million on Saturday, Nov. 14 and declined to a low of 239 on Friday, Dec. 25 
  • Positivity rate: plateauing; currently at 9.1% after reaching a low of 8.1% on Monday, Dec. 28 and increasing up to 10% since then.  

Yesterday, a group representing the state's beverage industry said it was 'likely' that the state would allow restaurants and diners to resume indoor service on Feb. 1

"The reopening would likely take place beginning February 1, giving owners time to work and supply chain and figure out staffing," read the statement, posted by the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association on Facebook.

The group said the reopening would "likely include" limitations to the rule, including limited capacity within establishments, as well as a curfew. Restaurants that take "additional public health measures" would be allowed to have a higher capacity limit.

"Although we are disappointed with the idea of being closed for another two weeks, finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel is certainly reassuring."

Restaurants in Michigan have kept their tables empty since mid-November. Amid growing concern at the time that a second surge from COVID-19 could roar through Michigan without more restrictions.

The state's second series of lockdown measures carried through the holidays, with Whitmer loosening parts of the rule on schools, but maintaining them in the service sector.

While officials remain concerned about the prospect of a post-holiday increase in cases, the state's infection rate has declined from its late-2020 peak.