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Judge declines to halt Michigan’s new indoor dining ban

DETROIT (AP) — A judge on Friday declined to halt a three-week ban on indoor dining in Michigan that is one of the most recent coronavirus restrictions imposed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration.

The state health department, meanwhile, reported a new daily high of confirmed COVID-19 cases, 9,779, and 53 additional deaths as the virus continued to spike.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney in Kalamazoo said a restraining order halting the indoor dining ban wouldn’t be appropriate, especially when the state hasn’t had a chance to respond to the lawsuit.

The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association, which has thousands of members, is suing to try to stop the indoor dining ban that began Wednesday. The group said restaurants can take further steps to reduce coronavirus risk without cutting off customers.

The group said its members were being unfairly treated compared to other businesses. The judge, however, wasn’t swayed.

“Individuals who patronize the businesses that remain open can do so — and must do so — while wearing a face covering. … In contrast, individuals cannot eat or drink while wearing a mask,” Maloney said.

Maloney scheduled the next hearing for Nov. 30, nearly two weeks into the three-week ban.

Association president Justin Winslow said the denial of a restraining order means “several more restaurant workers will be losing their jobs in the coming days as restaurants remain closed.”

In-person classes at high schools and colleges are also prohibited for three weeks, and casinos, theaters and exercise classes are closed.

“If all of us mask up and avoid indoor gatherings, we will not only save thousands of lives and protect our front-line health workers, but we’ll also be able to enjoy indoor restaurant dining without fear,” health department Director Robert Gordon said.

Michigan’s seven-day case average stood at 7,408, which is more than four times what it was a month ago. The seven-day average of deaths, 76, has tripled in just two weeks. Hospitals continue to admit more COVID-19 patients amid the surge.

In Kent County, home to Grand Rapids, the health department issued a warning that it can’t investigate cases and conduct contact tracing in a timely way when the caseload is so big. More than 15% of tests are coming back positive there.

Dr. Adam London, the county’s administrative health officer, advised anyone sick with symptoms broadly associated with the virus to immediately self-isolate and get tested.

“Our local infection rates have reached dangerous levels,” he said. “We need to take decisive, community-wide action to protect the health of our residents and to alleviate the pressure on our hospitals, frontline health care workers, and public health case investigators and contact tracers.”

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Eggert reported from Lansing.

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