By Charlie Forbes

CBS Detroit – On Monday the state released new guidelines that said certain establishments that include restaurants offering dine-in service to get the names and contact information of their customers for potential contact tracing. A day later the restaurant industry fought back, claiming the restrictions were vague and left out key details. In a report by Bridge Michigan, the state relaxed its contact tracing regulations for restaurants.

The original mandates by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services left restaurants with big questions on how to enforce and follow the requirements. Such As:

  • What should restaurants do when patrons don’t give their names or false names?
  • Are they responsible for false information?
  • Is everyone at the table including kids required to ID?

According to Justin Winslow, CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association, he told BridgeMI that he had hundreds of calls about this from his constituents. What they were up in arms about was not only the collection of personal information from customers, that they could only have tables with 6 persons or less, and that customers have to wear masks even while seated, with the exception of eating and drinking. Venues who hold large gatherings like conference centers and banquet halls were limited to only 50 people, a lot less than 500.

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On Tuesday the MDHHS revised the policy after hearing their concerns. First off, the state is recommending – but not requiring establishments to deny service to those who refuse to give their information; they are not responsible for false information, nor requiring businesses to require ID. Instead, businesses are asked to collect names and phone numbers of people and the time they were present. What information they are given, must be kept for 28 days. Information is only passed to a local health department unless it is requested, and information cannot be given to ICE or law enforcement unless they provide a subpoena. According to Bridge, the state says information that may be given to law enforcement “will be protected as confidential information to the fullest extent of the law,”. Also, MDHHS says having all parties give their information is ideal, the parent or head of the household is sufficient. If someone doesn’t give their information, the MDHHS requests the business to deny them entry.

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The restaurant industry is concerned that the revised requirements will turn away their customers who prefer to keep their privacy. As COVID-19 hasn’t been kind to restaurants, many need to operate at capacity to turn a profit in a business that always had tight margins. In May, Yahho!life reported from celebrity chef and businessman Andrew Zimmern that the average profit margin for a restaurant after food, overhead, insurance, and labor costs is only 2%-6%. “People get into the restaurant business because we love what happens when people sit down and share a bowl of soup at a table together. The majority of restaurants close before their first year is complete.” Zimmern said.

Zimmern said that during the time when restaurants were grappling with closures at the start of the pandemic, that while they may be limited in how many seats they can fill, they still are “paying 100% of our bills”.

For businesses who fail to ask for information from their customers may face a misdemeanor. A penalty that could cost them a $1,000 civil fine, or six months in jail according to BridgeMI.

The MDHHS released new information and documents about restaurant contact tracing on Tuesday as well. While unclear when the new policies will trickle down to eateries across the state, Winslow says there have been some frustrations and altercations already. He says people are challenging the businesses when asked for their information. Reports are some have tried to ease tensions by getting customer information after they were seated.

Washington State tried similar measures and they have already been rescinded. ACLU Michigan Deputy Legal Director Bonsitu Kitaba told BridgeMI “This additional guidance should give people confidence that their personal information will be kept private and used for the very limited purpose of stemming the spread of COVID-19,”.

According to BridgeMI, if the current policies go on, some restaurants may not make it. As a recent study reports 23% of restaurants may go out of business by the spring of 2021.

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© 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Information from BridgeMI contributed to this report.

Charlie Forbes

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