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Papers, please… Michigan bars, restaurants forced to collect customers’ names, phone numbers for tracing

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Michigan bars and restaurants are now being mandated to collect names and phone numbers from customers starting Monday in order to contain a recent COVID-19 surge, according to reports. The state says there are 12 outbreaks currently linked to bars and restaurants and contact tracing is necessary. The order also applies to schools and other businesses.

The new order reads: “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 customers refuse to provide the information, they can be denied service.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services put new rules in place this past week. They also include limiting indoor gatherings without fixed seating to 50 people and individual tables to six people. This bureaucratic move comes after the state set a new record with 3,675 cases last Thursday along with 41 more deaths.

Thursday’s mandate moves the 17-county Traverse City region back to Phase 4 in the state’s economic reopening plan. Previously, that region was the only one in Phase 5, a status that brought some eased restrictions on masks in schools and gatherings.

Right now, Michigan is tracking 34 outbreaks related to social events, such as trips by families and friends, bridal showers and weddings, funerals and outings at social clubs, and bowling parties.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, criticized the order as proof Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has “chosen to go it alone.” The constitutionality of the move by Whitmer is also being questioned.

“Earlier this week, Speaker @LeeChatfield and I again reached out to @GovWhitmer, asking her to work with us to combat our recent COVID-19 surge,” Shirkey tweeted. “Instead of taking us up on this offer, she has once again chosen to go it alone.”

On Wednesday, Whitmer stated that the COVID-19 numbers in the state were “very concerning.” She noted the surges were occurring with Halloween and the football game between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan this weekend. She also brought up Election Day on Tuesday.

Michigan restaurants are already hurting economically and struggling to stay open as they can only operate at 50% capacity. Servers are constantly struggling to cope because customers don’t like the current restrictions according to Scott Ellis, executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association. He was forced to work with the state on the new restrictions, but Ellis and his association don’t agree with the contact tracing mandate.

“Our frontline servers have already had trouble dealing with masks and mandates and mandating masks,” he said. “We did de-escalation training and all kinds of other things to help with that and now we’re taking to the next level. We have to gather someone’s personal information?” This is a move that will many believe will drive even more traffic away from these businesses.

Ellis added, “I think when you’re going to sit down at a restaurant you just don’t expect someone to take your name and number because you’re coming to have a drink or a burger.”

“Again, what’s this data gathering if the data is not truthful, how do we know how good it is,” asked Ellis.

Justin Winslow, who is the president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, said in a statement that the contact tracing mandate doesn’t match “existing science and data” that show “minimal transmission” from dining at restaurants. That transmission rate is about 2% of cases the state is investigating.

Violating the mandate will get the establishment fined $1,000 for not following the order.

The pandemic trends in Michigan are “incredibly concerning,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive. As of Wednesday, the state reported 1,348 adults with COVID-19 in hospitals, three times the 405 adults with COVID-19 in hospitals one month ago.

Robert Gordon, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, said the state is taking “targeted action” to areas that are “particularly severe sources of spread.”

“We are issuing guidance that is a very clear road map for what we need to do bring cases down,” he stated.

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