Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks during a press event providing an update on the state's COVID-19 response at Dow Diamond on Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Midland, Mich. Michigan will fully lift outdoor capacity limits on June 1 and, starting July 1, end indoor gathering caps that were put in place to curb COVID-19, Whitmer announced Thursday in a major loosening of economic restrictions. (Kaytie Boomer/The Bay City Times via AP)
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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan will fully lift outdoor capacity limits on June 1 and, starting July 1, end indoor gathering caps that were put in place to curb COVID-19, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Thursday in a major loosening of economic restrictions.

The state has limited occupancy in restaurants and other venues since March 2020, when the coronavirus hit. The announcement, which includes raising all indoor establishments' capacity limits to 50% and ending bar and restaurant curfews on June 1, came nearly a week after the governor's administration eased a mask order due to updated federal guidance.

"Life is getting back to normal,” Whitmer, a Democrat, said during a news conference at a minor league baseball park in Midland, which sustained major flooding a year ago.

The governor scrapped a plan to tie three final reopening steps to specific statewide vaccination rates, pointing to the new face covering recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The pace of vaccinations has slowed.

On June 1, capacity at casinos, gyms and indoor pools can rise to 50% — the current limit at many venues. The same goes for weddings, funerals, conferences and graduation parties, which will not face a maximum hard cap of 25 people indoors and 300 outdoors.

Concert venues and outdoor stadiums, such as the Detroit Tigers' Comerica Park, can fill their seats. Indoor places can have 100% capacity on July 1.

The state health department will issue a revised order on Monday. In the summer, Whitmer said, the state may have one or more targeted orders to protect “vulnerable populations, but for the most part, life will be back to normal and we can have the kind of Independence Day we're all looking forward to.”

Business groups welcomed the governor's announcement.

Small Business Association of Michigan President Brian Calley said most importantly, it provides a specific date for when emergency orders will end. It also allows for the ramp-up of operations at banquet halls, convention centers and other indoor facilities while authorizing summer events such as festivals and fairs.

The change “will prevent the outright loss of another wedding, graduation and conference season,” said Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association. “As Michigan’s hospitality industry now pivots to meet unprecedented pent-up demand to dine and travel free of occupancy restrictions, our focus will turn aggressively to securing workforce solutions that help restaurant, hotel and resort operators meet staffing needs.”

He said Michigan's workforce participation rate ranks 42nd in the country.

Also Monday, the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration will provide details on a previously announced plan to lift a requirement that employers prohibit onsite work if employees' job can be done remotely.

Nearly 57% of residents ages 16 and older have gotten at least one shot. Whitmer continued to urge people to be vaccinated and noted that unvaccinated individuals must wear a mask indoors through June, after which a broad face covering rule will be rescinded.

“I want to be clear about the fact that businesses and workplaces are well within their rights to require masks as patrons go in,” she said. “So let's give them our support as they navigate what's best for them and their workplace and their patrons.”

As of Wednesday, Michigan still had the nation's highest two-week infection rate, but metrics continued to improve. The rate was fourth-highest in the past week, according to Johns Hopkins University. The average number of daily new cases was down to 1,717, a 49% drop, from two weeks before.

Also Thursday, the state Department of Health and Human Services recommended that fully vaccinated people still wear masks in classrooms, at health care facilities, congregate-care settings and while playing indoor contact sports, working at nursing homes and using public transportation. Those who are not fully vaccinated are urged to be masked at crowded outdoor events and while participating in contact sports outside.


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