Whitmer lets Detroit casinos open but limits northern Michigan indoor bars

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s latest executive order will, among other things, impose uniform restrictions on indoor social gatherings and bars across the state.  She is shown here with Lt. Gov Garlin Gilchrist and the state's chief medical executive, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. (Courtesy photo)

LANSING — Detroit casinos can reopen at limited capacity next week but some northern Michigan bars will have to end indoor service again under an executive order signed late Wednesday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

The new order, Whitmer’s latest response to the coronavirus pandemic, will impose uniform restrictions on indoor social gatherings and bars across the state, tightening rules that had been eased in northern lower Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. 

Now, under rules made statewide, bars that derive at least 70 percent of their sales from alcohol are prohibited from serving customers indoors. And indoor events like parties, weddings, receptions and other social gatherings cannot exceed 10 people. A prior order had allowed bar service and indoor gatherings of up to 50 people in northern Michigan and the U.P.

In announcing the new order, the Whitmer administration cited a series of “super-spreading events” at large social gatherings that have led to new COVID-19 cases, particularly among young people. An outbreak at Harper’s Brewpub in East Lansing led to at least 187 infections and prompted the governor to tighten restrictions for lower Michigan earlier this month. 

At least 43 coronavirus cases have been linked to a sandbar party over the July 4 holiday weekend at Torch Lake in Antrim County. Whitmer’s order continues to require social distancing but does not impose new crowd limits on outdoor gatherings in northern Michigan and the U.P., where up to 250 people can still gather. 

With COVID-19 cases creeping up, “we must take every step possible to save lives, protect the brave men and women on the front lines, and avoid overwhelming our healthcare system while we continue to combat COVID-19,” Whitmer said in a statement. 

“After seeing a resurgence in cases connected to social gatherings across the state, we must further limit gatherings for the health of our community and economy. By taking these strong actions, we will be better positioned to get our children back into classrooms and avoid a potentially devastating second wave.”  

Whitmer’s new order will allow Detroit's three casinos to reopen at 15 percent capacity on Aug. 5, provided they implement additional health protocols, including daily screenings and temperature checks for staff and customers, who will be required to wear face coverings except while eating and drinking. 

"Casinos have been operating safely across most of the country and in tribal areas in Michigan and should be able to do so in the Detroit region as well," Whitmer wrote in her order.

The Detroit casinos have been closed since mid-March, when Whitmer issued sweeping economic shutdown orders she has subsequently relaxed for most business sectors. 

MGM Grand, MotorCity and Greektown earned nearly $300 million and generated $59 million in wagering taxes for the city and the state through the first three months of the year. But they haven't earned a penny since, despite a reopening plan the Michigan Gaming Control Board proposed to Whitmer in early June.

MotorCity Casino last week warned the state it was preparing for mass layoffs and planned to at least temporarily cut 2,554 workers on July 31. 

"Although we remain optimistic about reopening soon, we do not know exactly when that will occur nor do we know exactly what limitations will be imposed on our operations," David Turner, vice president of human resource, wrote in a notice to the state. 

"We also cannot predict at this point how many associates we will be in a position to bring back to work initially or in the weeks following our reopening."

Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula have, by far, the fewest COVID-19 cases in the state but are experiencing the fastest increases in sparsely populated regions where hospitals are small and far apart.

The number of cases in the Upper Peninsula grew by just 50 cases in June but has jumped 342 cases in July, bringing the U.P. total to 507, triple the number that existed at the beginning of the month. Meanwhile, the 17 counties in the northern part of the lower peninsula saw an 82 percent increase in cases in July, up 474 to 1,055 as of Wednesday.

All other regions, most of which were far harder hit earlier in the pandemic, have also seen bigger increases in July as Whitmer loosened restrictions and people began moving about.

Though the case count increased fastest in the two northern regions, the cases per 100,000 for each of those regions remain well below the six other regions of the state. There were between 105 and 114 cases per 100,000 people in July in the north, compared to nearly 300 per 100,000 in metro Detroit and 265 in the counties around Grand Rapids. 

But the more populated parts of the state also have the most hospital beds and Whitmer has long said she has approached her decisions regarding reopening areas in rural Michigan with the limited health-care infrastructure in those areas in mind.

The Traverse City region, a popular summer tourism destination, was "doing very well" with COVID-19 “up until about July 1," Grand Traverse County Health Director Wendy Hirschenberger told Bridge Wednesday. 

"At that point, we had 45 cases for a normal population of 92,000, but the population swells a lot in the summer — a lot of people have second homes and there are a lot of visitors," she said. "We're now up to 151 cases, so we have tripled in four weeks."

Some of those cases have been linked to visitors from other states, and some have been linked to people from other areas of Michigan who've traveled north, according to Hirschenberger. 

"You sort of know that's gonna happen,” she said. “We're in a different phase than a lot of the Lower Peninsula, so some people are coming up here to get away.

— Bridge reporters Mike Wilkinson and Robin Erb contributed

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Thu, 07/30/2020 - 12:38am

I think she should ban people from going up north! We had very few cases and it is now daily that a new case is reported! I see so many out of state licenses! Our grocery and retail stores are wiped out by downstaters and out of staters! Stay at home please so we can get a handle on things so that our children can return to school, we have access to the tests if need be, and we have grocery stores stocked! Come back when it is a little more normal for us!

Thu, 07/30/2020 - 12:49pm

None of those seem to be GOP concerns, you know, the people you elect. What do Lee Chatfield and his mentor Donald Trump say? Lee tweets, "It doesn’t get any better than family time on Mackinac Island. What a beautiful weekend!"

Thu, 07/30/2020 - 5:01pm

Glad to know northern Michigan doesn't need downstate tourist dollars anymore.

Thu, 07/30/2020 - 9:19pm

You do realize if it weren’t for tourists upper Michigan wouldn’t even exist? Down staters spend lots of money in your “country”. You seem pretty ungrateful.

middle of the mit
Fri, 07/31/2020 - 1:14pm

How about you put yourselves in our situation. You live in the unpopulated area full of retirees and We are coming into your area bringing a deadly virus to your population. How would you like it if we did that to you?

Can't you see that it isn't ungratefulness, (which I don't know why you think we should sacrifice our self respect because you love our area so much and apparently think you own it. And yes, we would still be here if you didn't show up, we just wouldn't have nice lights and sidewalks and stuff like that, but we would still be here. Where would you be?) .....it's asking for courtesy during a pandemic. By the way, are you allowed to bring your own firewood up here?

I wonder why that is?......................

Don't you see that COVID map getting yellow and orange up here?

Thu, 07/30/2020 - 1:03am

Does this mean restaurants can’t have more than 10 people indoors?

Thu, 07/30/2020 - 8:47am

Bad idea!

Thu, 07/30/2020 - 9:07am

I think it is a shame how the governor picks and choses who to shut down...why not shut down businesses in those specific areas instead of punishing all..she needs to listen to Michigan citizens and stop contributing to political agendas.

Bob Dunn
Sat, 08/01/2020 - 8:41am

I believe she is listening to the Michigan citizens and to the health experts. You note indicates you do not like her actions with the information she has. If you look at the data when we buckled down we made a significant difference. Trying to trust people to do the right thing has not worked. Go look at Sutton Bay, Platte River, bars and restaurants that are not following the guidelines. The results are an increased amount of infected people. Let's make saving lives a priority.

Thu, 07/30/2020 - 10:54am

Whitmer only seems to focus on Covid 19 and fails to recognize the toll she's taking on small business. Getting Covid 19 is not a death sentence, a very small percentage of people die. People at high risk know what they need to do by now. People across the state are hurting and loosing their livelihood. It's not fair to them. And she's to blame.

Thu, 07/30/2020 - 12:39pm

Well said! The first responsibility of these leaders is to legislate and establish policy that serves their constituents. Inherently, there are value conflicts when they implement same. So one way to know whether or not someone is a good leader - whether in a household, business or government - is to examine whether or not a given act or policy seems to be proportionate and balances the needs of their constituents in a fair and thoughtful manner. So ask yourself, based on what you see this leader and her appointed cabinet doing - are they being balanced, thoughtful, and implementing changes that are meaningful and SUSTAINABLE?

Whitmer Love
Thu, 07/30/2020 - 3:39pm

"YES!" Thanks for playing, Steve

middle of the mit
Thu, 07/30/2020 - 7:14pm

Up until you said her, I thought you were talking about Donald Trump. Of course that would mean that he led something and we all know he isn't talking responsibility for doing anything about the virus. That he left to the Governors.

Remember? "It will be gone by Easter! It will disappear on it's own. Eventually I will be proven right."

Thu, 07/30/2020 - 3:34pm

Then why do we have less new covid cases in Michigan than in other states, less restrictions? Rather than throwing partisan stones, try to be objective. Businesses here benefit from Whitmer's reasonable approach.

Robyn A Tonkin
Fri, 07/31/2020 - 12:06pm

There is a very good companion piece to this article about opening gyms. Gym owners want to reopen, but only 20% of respondents in a recent survey said they felt safe returning to gyms, and only 35% said they would feel safe returning in the gym six months from now. I live in a very tourist oriented area that straddles the UP/WI line. When bars and restaurants opened back up, they were all crammed. Now maybe they are crammed occasionally, but most of the time there are very few customers, at the height of the tourist season. The grocery store is far busier than I have seen it in 25 years, and that growth in business is not flagging, at all. All the bars and eateries have signs out declaring that they are hiring. This tells me people are quitting hospitality industry jobs because they are afraid of contracting covid 19. It is not going to go back to what it was. People do not want to go back to bars, restaurants and shops because they are afraid to because covid 19 is a crap shoot--maybe you'll be asymptomatic, and maybe you will die horribly by inches. Anybody who owns a shop, restaurant or bar needs to plan on what they are going to do if the customers don't come back. If you can order food, and everything else you can think of, online, (and you can) many people will make the permanent shift away from leaving the house very often.
Covid 19 will not behave like polio or the measles, that information is out there to be read and pondered. It will be more like the flu--you will need recurring shots, and the shots will afford a herd immunity that is very localized, depending on how many people have currently effective vaccinations. The infectious disease specialists will be happy if a covid 19 vaccine delivers 50% immunity. People will still get covid 19, forever, because the disease will experience both antigenic drift and shift. The jury is still out on how covid 19 will affect survivors during the rest of their lives. Something that I feel is very negative about covid 19 reporting is that there is very little reporting on how terrible many people feel even though they are officially "cured" of covid 19. A year from now we should have a better idea of how much chronic bronchitis, heart damage and kidney damage is occuring with covid 19 infections. All of this adds up to this: peoples' attitudes about getting out and mixing it up with scads of unknown people have permanently changed.

Thu, 07/30/2020 - 12:21pm

The rate of hospitalizations and mortality continue to decline as found on this site's own Coronavirus Dashboard. There is no rationale to continued mandates such as this. Incidents of positive test results do not correlate to increased risk to general public - so what is the logic supporting these restrictions ? As an example, obviously 70+ YO 'at risk' Adults need to limit their exposure - as anyone in the minority with existing health issues have done successfully previously. But to continue to harm people and our economy in this manner is willful misconduct and negligence. Intentionally frightening those who are not at risk - as can be observed by those wearing mask outdoors - is further evidence that leaders are not properly caring for or informing their constituents. Making meaningful changes to places of public services to allow those at risk persons access to facilities - while allowing the general public to continue to support the economy and conduct themselves - is the only way forward. Obviously we cannot conduct ourselves in this manner indefinitely. The underlying structure and costs of our resources and economy cannot operate at 25% utilization rates - it is simply unsustainable by any measure. Rather than doing the hard work to make a way forward on essential services to the population of their constituents who are at risk, leaders continue making uniformed and arbitrary legislation allowing Casinos (ie political donors) to stay open but keeping family gatherings of weddings, funerals limited to 10? We need to insist that leaders come up with a SUSTAINABLE solution for at-risk constituents and stop politicizing this issue at the expense of our collective futures.

Thu, 07/30/2020 - 3:41pm

150k + dead people and their families disagree with you.

Math Sux
Thu, 07/30/2020 - 9:30pm

On the death topic...maybe instead of shutting things down across the nation and then needing the Feds and our useless House and Senate pass a $2.2T *recovery bill*, maybe we should have kept working and gave the money to the surviving family of those killed.

Here is general breakdown: 1M dead from the virus, each spouse/next of kin would receive $2.2M; that is life changing money. Had 2M died, it would STILL be $1.1M. Come on, let's get real here and understand how much money is being pissed away by good intentions to fix BAD policy.

middle of the mit
Fri, 07/31/2020 - 8:35pm

Reality sux worse.

Where has most of that money gone? People complain because the unemployed are collecting $600/ week but they aren't focusing on why the market hasn't tanked or why big business is taking all the PPP.

Follow the money. It's like George Carlin said: Our rich are too poor and our poor are too rich.

George Carlin > Quotes > Quotable Quote "Conservatives say if you don't give the rich more money, they will lose their incentive to invest. As for the poor, they tell us they've lost all incentive because we've given them too much money."

Rhymes with: Comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted. https://www.dictionaryofchristianese.com/god-comforts-the-afflicted-and-...

Of course this will have no impact on you. You are willing to spend taxpayer money to let up to 2 million people die. What did you want to do when 3500 Americans died on 9/11/01? Oh! How many trillions have we spent on that again?

And it is still going on!

Math Sux
Sun, 08/02/2020 - 8:54am

Nope...bad idea then, bad idea now. I DO support pulling our forces from every little brush war (i.e. the debacle of Somalia...no compelling US interest) but by doing so, I am called a heartless S.O.B for letting people die in horrid conditions. Same as the former Yugoslavia; bad situation, but not our concern...Europe could have dealt with it, but once again the Stars and Stripes go forward to deal with other people's problems. Get it? We do what others won't. Anyhow, I digress...

Am I willing to let 2M die? Sounds callous, doesn't it? Let's see though, how about the slow death of urban areas through violence, which causes lost investment, which further erodes public infrastructure like schools, mass transit, and stable communities. COVID is not necessarily the root cause, but it sure hasn't helped. In the long view, the odds of 2M deaths is uncertain but the mass expenditure of public funds is a waste. The example was to show how far we are willing to go in feel good efforts because you are exactly right; I am NOT affected by any of this. My job is secure, it pays very well, and none of the stimulus money is crossing my ledger. I AM concerned about people losing jobs, homes, lost educational opportunities for our youth, and the rising violence and destruction across our nation.

It is the hard calculus of reason...everything has a price. One death is a tragedy, a million is a stastistic. Call me cruel, but we get one ride and mine has been pretty good; if I kick off tomorrow at 53, it has been fun but I would rather see this country continue forward than wasting money and time to keep me alive. Once again, I wander from topic...

I am frustrated at the short political memory of the electorate, frustrated at the divisiveness, and beyond frustrated (leaning toward po'd) at the whiny brats marching around protesting (Note: most of the them are spoiled suburban white kids so proud of being "woke") something they know little about. The groundswell of support for BLM has been diverted toward opposition as the backlash against the continuing destruction and violence grows. It is silent for now, but I say 3:2 odds Trump wins in November; the left shot themselves in the foot with this mess. Dang, off topic again...

Let it ride, let it ride, it is said a nation gets the government they deserve and we will continue to reap that whirlwind as long as each side digs their heels. Interesting times.

middle of the mit
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 5:35pm

I can't help with those calling you a horrible SOB for letting people die in horrid conditions, and I am not really sure what they are referring to, because most of the people that say something like that would NEVER suit up or fight the wars they want the Country to wage in their name. Second, most of them are willing to allow citizens to die choking on their own lung fluid just so long as we can open the economy.

The slow death of the inner cities wasn't as slow as you think it was. White flight did that in a decade or less. Do you see any body wanting to help other than throwing people in jail? That is what causes the violence. People fighting for scarce resources, while others are awash in them. How do you think the World got carved up into the chunks that we call Countries? How do you think we ended up on top? We fought for it and we decimated other nations and their people for our profit and ease. Why does it cause discomfort when we do it to ourselves?

I too am concerned about people losing their homes and jobs, this Country and most of it's leaders are ambivalent at best and apathetic at worst. More concerned with their portfolios and the stock market.

[[[It is the hard calculus of reason...everything has a price. One death is a tragedy, a million is a stastistic]]]]

Why are you quoting Stalin? https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780191826719.001.000...

I wouldn't recommend using his philosophy for much at all, but hey, you do you.

If Trump does win, I certainly hope he doesn't take your or Stalins attitude, but it seems as though that is the course we are on if he does.

Sun, 08/02/2020 - 1:43am

False statistics.
People under 65 are more likely to die in a car accident.
How many of your peers have died in car accidents? Think about that. Your peers under 65 are more likely to die in a car accident than of coronavirus.
People 65-75 a little more likely to die of coronavirus than car accident but not by that much.
People over 75 likely to die for any reason, forget coronavirus, the average life expectancy in the USA is ~79yrs.
This is not a pandemic. It's a hoax, brought to you by team ORANGE MAN BAD DESTROY ORANGE MAN AT ALL COSTS

Get real!
Thu, 07/30/2020 - 3:48pm

Steve, it sounds like you want Michigan to take the approach that these states took: Texas, Florida, Arizona, heck even Ohio, but now they realize they made bad mistakes. Your aspirational approach failed. Did not you get the memo or are you just reading your stale talkingpoints/following the advice of Trump's witch doctor who warns us of "alien dna" in vaccines and the "demon sperm"? It's hard to know when you people are joking.

Nonya Bidnez
Fri, 07/31/2020 - 9:25am

No mention of hospitalization or death rates in this article. That hasn't stopped me from finding that the death rate is flat even with a possible rise in cases.

Then again, I'm always skeptical of believing someone with an agenda.

Fri, 07/31/2020 - 10:07am

no bar actually has to close under this order. Almost every bar has a food license. And it takes almost nothing to get sales of alcohol under 70%. Could probably get there selling chips even. Maybe 1 out of 30 actually closed with order 143 down here and 160 is the exact same order. I work in a gentlemans club that had no kitchen before the order. They bought an air frier and finger foods and were allowed to open as a "bikini" bar lol. Authorities checked on them and they were good, of course they always come in just before opening so they don't catch anything purposely. If a kitchenless strip club can do it any bar can.

Fri, 07/31/2020 - 12:23pm

Does she realize that her 3 examples aren't related to the reason she claims to need to close?
The "house party" is not a bar. The "sand bar" is not a bar but an actual shallow sandy spot in the middle of a lack OUTSIDE. The exposure in the ONE actual bar in the example was even a while ago. I have heard about the "high exposure" at the one bar in Lansing but I have been unable to find out how many actually tested positive from that incident. Not minimizing it but what gets touted in the media is getting less and less factual and more and more speculative.

Annie Parm
Fri, 07/31/2020 - 3:35pm

More testing means more exposure to the virus will be detected. The Deliberate, strategic, politically motivated economic targeting of Michigans economy with "STAY AT HOME, CLOSE ALL STORES, MUST WEAR MASKS, RIOTING OK, WEDDINGS & FUNERALS NOT OK, MUST HAVE MAIL IN VOTING, YOU MUST OBEY OR BE PUNISHED (BUSINESS LICENSES PULLED/ARRESTED/FINED), ORANGE MAN BAD, at all costs, mindset", over a flu with a mortality rate no worse than a normal bad flu season, is abusive and disgusting at best, criminal at the worst.

middle of the mit
Fri, 07/31/2020 - 8:50pm

If it was no worse than the flu, why has there been 3x the normal deaths associated with the flu in 6 months, and why hasn't it gone away?

This is a prime example of Bridge reporting confirming this is not the flu, but Bridge allowing people to push false narratives. If your reporting is true, and your policy is to not publish false narratives...............or is publishing both sides of an argument more important?
Will this comment get published?

but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes.

Mon, 08/03/2020 - 9:35am

If more testing means more exposure to the virus will be detected, is your solution to stop all testing? Think about it, if we don't test and keep our fingers in our ears and say "LALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU!", cases will drop to zero.

Whitmer and the State of Michigan aren't only looking at total number of cases, they are looking at a variety of factors, including the percentage of tests that come back positive.

Patricia Schwartz
Sat, 08/01/2020 - 8:49am

Masks and social distancing have been working here in the UP. Those who cannot/will not adhere to this suggestion should stay home.

This method is two-way: both parties are compliant and should be complimented!

Sat, 08/01/2020 - 2:54pm

In all fairness. Casino's reopening may have a huge thing to do with tax. If I'm not mistaken casino's are for native american profits and if I'm not mistaken the land they are built on is with technicalities not American...the governor may not have had a choice in this because of a treaty signed a very long time ago. But she may want to make it seem like it's her choice. So she's saying she opened it.

Not really her ...
Sat, 08/01/2020 - 2:59pm

"Native American gaming comprises casinos, bingo halls, and other gambling operations on Indian reservations or other tribal land in the United States. Because these areas have tribal sovereignty, states have limited ability to forbid gambling there, as codified by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988." Therefore, yes, there will be casinos open.