MI Dept of Health & Human Services Flaunts Fines, SWM Chamber CEO Fires Back

Southwest Michigan Regional Chamber CEO Arthur Havlicek is growing increasingly frustrated over actions by the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services who Tuesday cited more than a dozen Michigan restaurants and bars for “violations of the public health order put in place to control the spread of COVID-19 and protect public health by establishing restrictions on gatherings, including prohibiting gatherings of patrons in food service establishments.

Yesterday, the MDHHS issued a press release with the headline “MDHHS Issues More Citations to Maintain Momentum in Preventing Spread of COVID-19.” While the list of establishments cited did not include a local business, Southwest Michigan Regional Chamber President Arthur Havlicek condemned the verbiage as well as the precedent being set.

Havlicek contends, “MDHHS is not a law enforcement agency and should not be patting themselves on the back for issuing yet more fines on struggling businesses,” and adds, “To refer to it as ‘momentum’ is cruel at worst and tone-deaf at best. The only thing gaining momentum is the number of businesses who are trapped between closing permanently and risking these punitive fines.”

Every business cited in the release was either a restaurant or bar, both having been ordered to close dine-in service since mid-November. Hospitality experts have repeatedly warned these restrictions were doing irreparable damage to the food-service industry. According to research from the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association, thirty-three percent of Michigan restaurant operators have said it is unlikely they will still be in business in six months.

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Havlicek says it doesn’t have to be this way, arguing, “Food service industry workers are used to following strict health and safety codes designed to keep themselves and their customers safe. They are equally as willing to follow the CDC’s guidelines regarding the virus.” He adds, “We know it can be done because it’s being done a few miles from here. Dine-in is allowed in Indiana and they have not seen more outbreaks because of it.”

The latest MDHHS order has slated dine-in to resume January 15th but that could be extended again if the Governor’s administration doesn’t like the trends in the state. Havlicek says it needs to open sooner because every day that goes by is a day one of those businesses will close their doors for good.

Havlicek goes on to say, “To say these businesses must open is not to dismiss where we are at in the fight against the virus or the advice that we must remain vigilant in protecting ourselves and others,” and concludes, “After all, it is our personal actions and personal responsibility that ultimately curb the spread and that’s what this press release fails to understand. The hardworking people of Michigan deserve better than to watch the state do a victory lap over citations when in reality it is our day-to-day diligence in this fight keeping the numbers down.”

Here is the full text of yesterday’s press release from the state of Michigan:

MDHHS issues more citations to maintain momentum in preventing spread of COVID-19
Most establishments continue doing their part by following the order

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 5, 2021
Contact: Lynn Sutfin, 517-241-2112 

LANSING, Mich. Today, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) announced the citations issued during December to establishments in violation of the public health order put in place to control the spread of COVID-19 and protect public health by establishing restrictions on gatherings, including prohibiting gatherings of patrons in food service establishments.

“I thank the vast majority of restaurant and bar owners for helping us contain the spread of COVID-19 by temporarily closing their indoor service,” said MDHHS Director Robert Gordon. “We continue to see improvements in the numbers, and we know that the public health orders we have put in place are working. I look forward to the day when indoor service can reopen.”

The most recent set of citations issued by MDHHS in December were to the following establishments, with penalties of up to $1,000 for each violation or day that a violation continues:

  • Café Rosetta, 102 Fifth Street, Calumet, Issued Dec. 2, $4,000
  • Big Boy of Sandusky, 422 West Sanilac Road, Issued, Dec. 2, $5,000
  • Hatorando Sushi, 10586 Highland Road, Hartland, Issued Dec. 2, $2,000
  • Iron Pig Smokehouse, 143 W. Main Street, Issued Dec. 2, Gaylord, $5,000
  • Rockhouse Grill & Tavern, 915 Razorback Drive, Houghton, Issued Dec. 4, $1,000
  • Spangler’s Family Restaurant, 601 E. Chicago Road, Jonesville, Issued Dec. 16, $11,000
  • Cravins, 389 S. Meridian #9710, Hudson, Issued Dec. 16, $1,000
  • Bernita Mae Café, 80 N. 3rd Street, PO Box 53, Issued Dec. 16, Sand Lake, $4,000
  • Jimmy’s Roadhouse, 8574 Mason Drive, Newaygo, Issued Dec. 16, $1,000
  • D&R Daily Grind, 8712 Portage Road, Portage, Issued Dec. 16, $2,000
  • Wild Roast Coffee, 4035 Chicago Drive SW, Grandville, Issued Dec. 16, $2,000
  • Woodchips Barbecue, 315 West Nepessing Street, Lapeer, Issued Dec. 16, $4,000
  • John Cowley & Sons Irish Pub, 33338 Grand River Avenue, Farmington, Issued Dec. 16, $1,000

Information was received by MDHHS from local health departments and local law enforcement regarding non-compliance with the order. The civil fines are due within 30 days of receipt of the citations.

“The number of cases, the positivity rate, and hospital capacity have declined in recent weeks, taking stress off our hospitals and health care workers. We will continue to monitor the data and assess for any potential surges in cases after the holidays,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS. “Most food service establishments like restaurants and bars have helped play a critical role in the existing decline by following the order.”

To date, there have been more than 500,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Michigan, resulting in more than 12,000 deaths.

The public can report any suspected non-compliance issue at an establishment directly to their local health department or to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission online or by calling the enforcement hotline, toll-free, at 866-893-2121.

Information around this outbreak is changing rapidly. The latest information is available at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.