Whitmer partially heeds Barrett advice on stadium capacity, finally opens indoor dining

‘The governor’s actions may very well be too little and too late’

LANSING, Mich. — State Sen. Tom Barrett on Friday thanked Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for partially heeding his request to increase capacity restrictions at large sports venues, although he expressed disappointment that she did not raise the cap higher.

“I appreciate the governor’s prompt action following my letter,” said Barrett, R-Charlotte. “This change will allow twice as many DeWitt and New Lothrop fans to support their friends or family members in the football championships this weekend, but the administration could do more. If a stadium with 10,000 seats can safely hold 500 people, there is no reason a stadium with 65,000 seats could not safely hold over 3,000 people.”

Barrett, along with state Reps. Ben Frederick and Graham Filler, sent a letter to Whitmer on Thursday. The legislators called on Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to remove the arbitrary 250-person limit for sports venue attendance under the “Gatherings and Face Mask” epidemic order of Jan. 13 issued by the MDHHS.

They suggested maintaining the percentage-based capacity guideline while eliminating the arbitrary maximum. Whitmer and the MDHHS partially adopted this recommendation in a new order issued Friday, immediately raising the limit to 500 persons for sports venues with more than 10,000 seats.

Barrett’s letter had been sent ahead of the Michigan High School Athletic Association 11-player football finals on Friday and Saturday, which will be played at Ford Field in Detroit. Two schools in the 24th Senate District, which Barrett represents, will have teams competing in the finals over the weekend. New Lothrop High School will play St. Francis High School of Traverse City at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Division 7 finals. DeWitt High School will face River Rouge High School for the Division 3 title at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.

The new MDHHS epidemic order will also permit indoor restaurant dining beginning Feb. 1, after over two months of forced closures.

“I am glad that Gov. Whitmer is finally ending her outright ban on indoor dining,” Barrett said. “But for countless struggling business owners and food service workers, this partial reopening — as with many of the governor’s delayed, piecemeal actions — may very well be too little and too late.”

Under the new order, restaurant dining room capacity will be limited to 25% of normal seating capacity, up to 100 persons. A curfew on indoor dining will be in effect between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.

Barrett has previously acted to help businesses and individuals harmed by epidemic orders. In December of 2020, he voted for a supplemental budget that included $45 million to assist employees furloughed or laid off because of gathering restrictions, and $55 million to aid restaurants and other small businesses closed or partially closed by recent epidemic orders.