News Story

Study Whitmer Cited To Justify Restaurant Lockdown Doesn’t Do It

Report explained how limiting capacity to 20% is sweet spot for reducing virus spread

There were 70,088 businesses in Michigan subjected to government-mandated closure at some point in 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s most recent lockdown has closed restaurants and taverns for indoor service since Nov. 18. It was originally pitched as a three-week pause but has now entered its 72nd day.

On Dec. 7, Whitmer tweeted out links to certain studies and wrote, “Read some the research and data connecting COVID-19 and indoor dining below.”

At least one of the studies referenced by the governor did not support her lockdown approach, however.

Serina Chang, a Ph.D. student at Stanford University, was the lead author of a study cited by Whitmer. The study, published Nov. 10, called for limiting capacity at bars and restaurants, not shutting them down.

The same study was cited in a New York Times article titled, “The Magic Number for Reducing Infections and Keeping Businesses Open.”

The Times reported, “Data from early in the pandemic reveals there’s a ‘sweet spot’ where infections can be reduced while keeping business steady. That magic number: around 20 percent. If indoor capacity in public spaces like restaurants, gyms, hotels and grocery stores was reduced to just 20 percent, we could prevent 87 percent of new infections.”

Chang was quoted by The New York Times saying, “Capacity caps disproportionately target those risky locations in their busiest hours. This is why we see the promising trade-off curve, where a smaller reduction in visits can result in a large reduction in infections.”

The study itself states, “Our model predicts that a small minority of ‘superspreader’ points of interest account for a large majority of the infections, and that restricting the maximum occupancy at each point of interest is more effective than uniformly reducing mobility.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.