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By Carol Stiffler

Restaurants, bars, and retail shops in the Upper Peninsula and Traverse City region can re-open at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, May 22.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer made the announcement on Monday, May 18, leaving restaurant owners very little time to prepare to open.

The announcement was not only unexpected – the stay home order is in place through May 28 – it comes straight out of phase four of the MI Safe Start Plan, and the state remains in phase three. Only businesses in region 6, which consists of 17 counties in the northern lower peninsula, and region 8, which emcompasses the entire Upper Peninsula, are eligible.

There are strings attached. All business owners who choose to re-open must comply with strict health measures to protect workers, customers, and their communities from infection with coronavirus. That means training employees on health requirements, providing personal protection equipment like face masks and gloves, and having a plan in place in the event an employee gets sick. In restaurants, it also means running the dining room at half capacity, keeping tables spaced apart, and disinfecting again and again.

Chamberlin’s Ole Forest Inn in Curtis has been closed since Whitmer’s order in March to shut down all restaurant dining rooms. Serving take-out meals wasn’t feasible, said Kelly Chamberlin, owner and manager of the inn.

“I was not expecting the announcement that we could open Friday,” Chamberlin said. “We will open Friday at 50 percent capacity as ordered. We will have a limited menu, due to short notice and limitations of some food products.” Chamberlin’s will be open for dinners only, beginning at 4 p.m., Wednesdays through Sundays.

Chamberlin said the restaurant already has safety measures in place in preparation for diners.

Whitmer asked people who live in the re-opened regions to “keep their wits about them”.

“Let’s not all go rushing out and force a closure eventually,” she said. “Make sure you do everything in your power to protect yourself from the virus. Wear the mask, unless you’re about to eat. Wash your hands; Stay six feet away from others. And if you don’t live in these regions, regions 6 and 8, please think long and hard before you take a trip into them.”

People who live outside the region and are heading up north should plan to quarantine for 14 days before heading out into public, and bring their own groceries. Whitmer was specifically addressing people who own second properties up north, as rental cabins are not allowed to open yet.

Whitmer is asking regions 6 and 8 to lead the way for restaurants to open across the state. She plans to announce more news on that front later this week.

It’s doable, Chamberlin said.

“I’m encouraged, but it will take everyone to be smart and take precautions seriously to get it right,” she said. “It can be accomplished.”