By Jessica Mathews /

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued an updated order that establishes mandatory contact tracing for bars and restaurants and tightens rules for indoor gatherings.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services revised and extended its epidemic order to contain the spread of COVID-19 Thursday, saying hospitalizations have doubled over the last three weeks while the state death rate has increased for five consecutive weeks. The maximum gathering size for indoor gatherings such as weddings, parties, and banquets which occur in nonresidential settings without fixed seating has been reduced from 500 to 50. The limitations to the size of gatherings do not apply to voting or election related activities at polling places.

A press release states “currently Michigan counts 34 outbreaks related to social events such as trips by families/friends, bridal showers and weddings (3-10 cases); funerals (9-22 cases); and outings at social clubs and bowling parties (6-19 cases). An additional 19 outbreaks of up to 52 cases are linked to church services, which are exempt from enforcement under the order”.

New restrictions have also been issued for restaurants, bars and other venues that now must seat no more than six people at a table. According to the order, all dine-in food service establishments must maintain accurate records of the names and phone numbers of patrons who purchase food for consumption on the premises, and the date and time of entry. If patrons refuse to provide information, servers must deny entry/service.

The Michigan Licensed Beverage Association advocates on behalf of bars, restaurants and taverns. Executive Director Scott Ellis commented “Another day, another bar and restaurant regulation that looks good on paper”. He said the order puts an unnecessary burden on servers and staff who already have to deal with trouble customers who refuse to wear masks – adding the last time he checked, data collection was not in their job description.

MDHHS Spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin tells WHMI COVID-19 is spreading quickly and they’re seeing cases increase across all regions of the state. Sutfin says they’re urging voluntary compliance but there are fines for violations of the epidemic orders, which are punishable by a civil fine of up to $1,000. Sutfin said it may also be treated as a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 6 months or a fine of not more than $200. She noted residents seeking to report violations should consult the COVID-19 complaint page on the state coronavirus website to find the appropriate department. If complaints are related to general failure to wear a mask or physical distance, Sutfin said people should contact the non-emergency line for their local law enforcement agency.

The full releases from the MDHHS and the MLBA are attached.