TRAVERSE CITY — Local restaurant operators are ramping up for the likely Feb. 1 resumption of indoor dining in Michigan.

The long-awaited reopening will allow hundreds of idled employees to get back to work across the region.

HM Group LLC plans to bring back many front-of-house employees, and perhaps also hire some new faces at its five restaurants: McGee’s 72, McGee’s 31, Sorellina, Slate and Harrington’s by the Bay.

“The to-go model of business has kept quite a few front-of-the-house staff people employed,” chef and co-owner Joshua Vinocur said Wednesday when contacted at Harrington’s.

“Restaurants are like little families — we’re happy that we can do right by the people who do right by us. We’ve managed to maintain our back-of-the-house staff. There’s been continuity there. We’re very lucky in so far as the public has been very supportive. So our to-go volume has been very good,” Vinocur said.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday announced that recent improvements in the state’s COVID-19 numbers suggest that reopening portions of the business world can be done safely.

Gyms and indoor exercise classes can resume business across the state even sooner, this Saturday, she said during a noon update streamed online. Gyms in northern Lower Michigan have been open since June.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ latest order, issued Dec. 18, which affects various regions in the state differently, prohibits indoor restaurant dining, indoor group fitness classes, non-professional indoor sports, trampoline parks and water parks, and workplaces when work can be done from home.

“Today, we are confident that DHHS can lift some of the protocols that were previously in place,” said Whitmer. “The pause that DHHS issued is working.”

She said coronavirus-related statistics are improving across the state.

“The factors that we are looking at when making decisions are falling cases, percent of COVID hospital beds available and falling positive test rates. Our numbers have been headed in the right direction.”

State numbers put filled COVID-19 beds in hospitals in a 13-day decline, and is currently at 12 percent, down from a peak of 19.4 percent on Dec. 4. The test positivity rate is plateauing at 9.1 percent.

Case rates are increasing at 266 per million, but is a drastic drop from a Nov. 14 peak of 740 cases per million, though above a low of 239 cases per million on Christmas Day.

Because pressure on medical facilities is lessening, Whitmer said some restrictions safely can be eased.

Starting Jan. 16, indoor group fitness and exercise classes and indoor non-contact sports may resume, with masks.

Elite Fitness North owner Justin Richard said business has been good since MDHHS allowed gyms to reopen in the region in June. He’s glad downstate gym owners will be allowed to reopen.

“Going through these times — through COVID and now vaccinations becoming available — it’s definitely giving some light to people ... Feeling more confident and going out and finally getting back to some normalization,” Richard said.

Food service businesses and workers may be able to soon resume indoor dining service, as MDHHS is looking at allowing indoor dining with mask requirements, capacity limits and a curfew starting on Feb. 1, said Whitmer.

“If numbers continue to head in the right direction, our hope is that we will be able to resume indoor dining, with strong safety measures in place, on Feb. 1,” she said.

She said more details will be released within a few days.

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