Indoor dining capacity increases, but COVID-19 risk factors remain

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Katlyn Holtvluwer

Dodge Park Coney Island located on 15 Mile Road and Dodge Park Road in Sterling Height. The owner, Pashko Ujkaj, is relieved to be back at 50% dining capacity.

STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. – On March 5, 2021 the indoor dining capacity in Michigan was increased to 50%. For restaurant owners in the city, this was exciting news. The increase in dining capacity means an increase in revenue for these establishments, and is another step toward the return to normal living conditions.

For Pashko Ujkaj, the owner of Dodge Park Coney Island, trying to maintain his restaurant’s normal ways of operation has been a challenge, but he thinks moving to 50% will be promising.

“You increase your operation costs but you decrease your overall business, but I can see the governor’s view on it,” said Ujkaj about when his restaurant was limited to 25% capacity. “It was hard, but we got through it and we want to believe that we can save some lives and save unnecessary illness by following these restrictions.”

Economically speaking, the decrease in dining restrictions means an increase in the quality of life for Sterling Heights residents, according to the city’s senior economic development advisor, Luke Bonner. 

Bonner says that restaurants are an essential service for residents of the community and for the last year, many of its residents have suffered in their limited presence.

“Local restaurants and national chains have both struggled, which means people are losing their jobs, and there’s an impact on the economy,”  said Bonner. “Aside from restaurants, the entire service sector in general has really struggled. There are also other ripple effects in the economy. People aren’t able to pay their rent, people aren’t able to pay their mortgage, and so on and so forth.”

However, restaurants that have found ways to make their business compliant with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s restrictions, have been able to stay afloat. Bonner said many restaurants found ways to decrease expenses while staying COVID-19 friendly by incorporating QR codes to do away with menus and developing carry-out options on their website. 

It is expected that there will be a shedding of Sterling Heights’ restaurants that are not financially strong enough or that do not have the ability to adapt at this time, according to Bonner. But the restaurants that show creativity to reach their customers and still provide good service are expected to make it out of the pandemic in fine condition, according to Bonner.

Although the dine-in capacity has been increased through state orders, it still may not be a safe option. COVID-19 has still not run its full course, and experts like Dr. Allison Weinmann, a member of the Senior Staff of infectious diseases at Henry Ford Health System, thinks that dining in is still not a safe choice. 

What makes indoor dining a particular risk is that you have to unmask at some point, and any unmasking near others, especially when eating, makes the probability of spreading COVID-19 higher, Weinmann said.

“There’s public health, and there’s also the economic considerations,” said Weinmann. “So personally, I’m not a big fan of opening up restaurants further for indoor dining, I think that’s one of the highest risk activities that one can do.”

Photo courtesy of Kim North Shine from the Henry Ford Health System’s public relations team

Dr. Allison Weinmann shows how she masks up. Dr. Weinmann is an advocate for getting the COVID-19 vaccine and is encouraging everyone eligible to get vaccinated.

Weinmann advised that people should refrain from indoor dining until receiving both doses of their vaccine, and to wait it out until the majority of people have been vaccinated. Outdoor dining and supporting local restaurants through carry-out and delivery services could be what it takes to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recorded a national 29,176,658 COVID-19 cases and 530,693 deaths since the start of the pandemic. According to Michigan.Gov, there have been 607,437 cases of COVID-19 throughout the state of Michigan and 15,774 deaths as of March 13, 2021. Throughout Macomb county there have been 57,303 cases of COVID-19 and 1,890 deaths. Although the curve has been on a downward trend, the increase in indoor dining could spark another rise in cases.

“Not everything legal is good for you, too much of anything is not always good,” Weinmann said. “You have to take into account your individual risk factors, and you need to take into account who you’re going to be exposing, even if you’re not very sick, or you’re asymptomatic, who could you bring COVID-19 to that might get really sick or die from it.”

Katlyn Holtvluwer

The Henry Ford Macomb Medical Pavilion located at 19 Mile Road and Hayes Road. Henry Ford Health System has provided resources for many COVID-19 victims and is the employer of Dr. Allison Weinmann.