by Scott McClallen
The state of Michigan eased a requirement that restaurants deny entry to customers who don’t give their contact information for contact tracing after a civil liberties group stepped in.
The new Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) FAQ page only recommends facilities deny entry to customers who refuse to provide contact information to the restaurant.
A failure to request contact information would have violated the order that threatens a misdemeanor charge, a civil fine up to $1,000, or possibly the loss of a business license.
“The measures in last week’s order were intended to keep people safe while allowing for restaurants, bars, recreation and entertainment venues, and other gathering places to remain open despite the rapid rise in COVID-19 across Michigan over the last month,” MDHHS spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin told The Center Square in an email.
The same order applied for personal services, recreation, and entertainment venues and has been in effect “for months without issue”, Sutfin said.
Under the Oct. 29 order, restaurants and bars must request patron contact information.
“It is our hope that the majority of Michiganders will voluntarily comply with this requirement of restaurants and bars by providing this information that will assist with contact tracing if a positive case is connected with the facility,” Sutfin said.
However, the MDHHS, a local health department, or law enforcement will investigate complaints about restaurants or bars that aren’t collecting contact information, Sutfin said.
“In addition, we will continue to closely monitor the spread of COVID-19 and impacts on our hospitals and health infrastructure to determine if additional measures are necessary,” Sutfin added.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) worked with MDHHS to craft the FAQ and strongly recommended that they not punish customers or businesses who choose not to give up their contact information.
Bonsitu Kitaba, Michigan legal director of the ACLU, said in a statement they were encouraged by MDHHS guidance, especially prohibiting businesses from sharing the data with law enforcement, immigration officials, or for non-public, health-related reasons.
“The guidance also makes clear that customers and businesses will not be punished if a customer chooses not to provide their personal information. 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,” Kitaba said.
“COVID-19 is still hitting vulnerable communities especially hard as we enter the colder months, and it’s on all of us to be vigilant about protecting each other. We will always work with communities and officials to protect people’s health and their civil liberties,” Kitaba said. “We look forward to working with the Department as they work through implementation of the order and guidance for organizations collecting customer contact info, and will provide feedback to them if issues arise.”
State data as of Oct. 29 show restaurants accounted for 15 new outbreaks, or 7% of Michigan’s total new outbreaks. Bars accounted for 2%, or four new outbreaks — defined as two or more COVID-19 cases originating from people from different households.
The top categories of new COVID-19 cases continue to be K-12 schools (44), long-term care facilities (42), and manufacturing/construction (16).
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.