By Jessica Mathews /

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has announced that retail businesses in much of northern Michigan, including restaurants and bars, can re-open starting Friday.

The move affects two of the eight regions identified in the governor’s gradual reopening plan amid the coronavirus pandemic. One covers the Upper Peninsula and another includes 17 counties in the northern Lower Peninsula, including the Traverse City area. Office work will resume in the region if work cannot be done remotely. Bars and restaurants will have to limit their capacity to 50% and follow guidelines to prevent and slow the spread of the virus. Groups will be required to stay 6 feet apart and servers will wear face coverings.

As for overnight lodging, the Governor clarified during a press conference that campgrounds and rentals in those regions are not re-opening yet. She said the big fear is the upcoming holiday weekend, as many people like to travel to northern Michigan, especially if they have the ability. Whitmer urged people to not descend on the Traverse City area from all regions. She said if people are fortunate to have a place up north, they should bring groceries with them and try not to go out unnecessarily. She said people can visit restaurants but only in small groups and should maintain social distancing – stressing it is important everyone continue to do their part.

Whitmer said there has been reason for optimism but a small spike could put the regional hospital system in dire straits pretty quickly as many small towns have limited capacity available to help if someone gets sick. Whitmer said it’s because everyone is doing their part and taking things seriously that they haven’t seen a huge caseload in the re-opening Regions 6 & 8 – adding data shows that people listened when asked not to visit second homes in the early days and they’ve been able to maintain and contain COVID-19 in those regions. Whitmer said it’s a small step forward they’re taking but remain poised to take additional steps when the numbers show that taking this hasn’t created another spike.

Stacie Bytwork chairs the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance and said Northern Michigan is ready to lead by example and open safely while implementing safeguards to keep people healthy. She said businesses have clear guidelines for safe operating practices, expanded health screening and testing, are using PPE and applying modified social distancing and comprehensive cleaning procedures to prevent future spikes.