Bars, Restaurants Face Sanctions On Crowds, More Restrictions Likely

(GONGWER NEWS) – Michigan’s bars and restaurants risk losing their licenses to sell alcohol should they ignore Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order limiting assemblies of people in a single space to 250, and Ms. Whitmer signaled Sunday night that more restrictions are likely.

Hours after the governors in Illinois and Ohio announced closures of all bars and restaurants in their states with the exception of carryout and delivery service to combat COVID-19, Ms. Whitmer said at a news conference she would have more to say on the topic soon.

“Tonight I’m not making an announcement on that front, but I would anticipate that there would be further information available very, very soon,” she said.

Ms. Whitmer said she saw the same photos as others over the weekend of people packing bars in advance of the St. Patrick’s Day holiday.

People crowding bars comes even as all health experts have urged people to maintain a social distance of at least six feet from others to help slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

“I found those incredibly disturbing,” she said of the photos.

Five hours before Ms. Whitmer spoke, Attorney General Dana Nessel held a news conference outlining how the executive order would be enforced.

While there would be no immediate action on businesses choosing to ignore Executive Order 2020-5 – which bans the congregation of more than 250 people “in a single shared space” until 5 p.m., April 5 to help stymie the spread of the new coronavirus – the agency will be keeping track of who violates the emergency order and plans to take action at a later date, Attorney General Dana Nessel said.

To date, Ms. Nessel said, no businesses have been forwarded to her office in violation of the order. The hope, she said, is that the threat of liquor license seizure “will incentivize them to do the right thing.”

“My belief is that most proprietors in this industry are good actors … and want to ensure the safety of their patrons and their employees,” Ms. Nessel said. “No one wants a shutdown for the food and beverage industry, but also no one wants COVID … that’s why we’re taking these important measures and we want to remind everyone of keeping all of us safe and healthy.”

Ms. Nessel was joined by Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, and Michigan Licensed Beverage Association Executive Director Scott Ellis, both of whom said that while they would not normally be advocating for restrictions on their industries, they understood the necessity of these actions to prevent further hardships later.

“These are pretty severe times for this industry … and it’s rare for me to come and advocate for restriction to the industry (however) the threat is serious enough for all of us to operate with an abundance of concern,” Mr. Winslow said. “A lot or most of our members are finding ways to voluntarily do this. They care about their workforce – and the business is that important to them, personally.”

Kent, Oakland, Ingham and Washtenaw counties have taken the limit on crowds a step further and ordered the slashing of occupancy rates to 50 percent for bars and restaurants. Venues with capacity sizes under 250 are equally as likely to be hotspots for COVID-19 spread as it’s just as much about the amount of people present in one space as it is about how tightly packed they are.

At her news conference, Ms. Whitmer spoke directly to young people who have filled bars.

“Even if you are young, even if you feel healthy and you don’t have any symptoms right now, you can be unknowingly carrying this virus. Assume that you are and take it seriously,” she said. “It’s not just about protecting yourself. It’s about protecting everyone.”

In addition to measures put upon the food service industry, Ms. Nessel said her office is actively and aggressively looking into businesses seeking to capitalize financially in the wake of fears from the new coronavirus.

Ms. Whitmer on Sunday signed an executive order enhancing restrictions on price gouging for goods, materials, emergency supplies and consumer food items. Businesses or individuals reselling products must not do so at a price that is not grossly in excess of the purchase price.

No business or individual can offer to sell any product at a price that is more than 20 percent higher than what the product was sold for on March 9, unless the business or individual demonstrates that the price increase is attributable to an increase in the cost of bringing the product to market, the order says.

The order takes effect at 9 a.m. March 16 and will remain in place until 11:59 p.m. April 5.

Four Michigan businesses have been identified as engaging in price gouging items such as face masks and hand sanitizer in the wake of increased new coronavirus diagnoses, Assistant Attorney General Joe Potchen said. To date, the agency has received more than 75 complaints of price gouging from various businesses across the state.

There will be discretion used when investigating these businesses, Mr. Potchen said, as in some cases a rise in price will be incumbent on a change in the supply chain rather than driven by malicious intent. Reporting a business thought to be engaging in gouging can be done online.

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