ST. JOSEPH — Several Berrien County commissioners expressed frustration Thursday at state officials for extending the 25 percent occupancy limit in bars and restaurants through March 29.

Indoor dining was closed down mid-November due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, but was allowed to resume at reduced capacity on Feb. 1.

“We all hoped that would transition quickly from 25 percent to something more normal, at least in our part of the state and other parts of the state that are not high density population centers,” said board Chairman Mac Elliott during their weekly meeting.

He said the rules for reopening should not be the same throughout the entire state. He suggested that commissioners put together a letter or resolution to be voted on next week and sent to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, asking for a regional approach to the public health orders.

Commissioner Teri Freehling agreed that it’s time for the board to speak, especially since the county borders Indiana, where restaurants are fully open.

“We have a lot of our businesses that are struggling when just across the line, we have businesses that are open and residents are going down there to do their business,” she said.

Commissioner Ezra Scott said that Indiana businesses are benefiting greatly from Michigan’s bars and restaurants not being allowed to fully open.

Scott said it’s sad to see satirical billboards in Indiana declaring that Whitmer is “Indiana Business Person of the Year.”

“I’m not happy with this at all,” he said. “I’m truly afraid for all the businesses, especially the restaurants and bars ... that could possibly close that have put all of their life savings into this.”

Commissioner Rayonte Bell said that before a decision is made, commissioners should talk with staff from the Berrien County Health Department to hear their thoughts.

“We do need to support our local businesses, but at the same time, just be careful with this step and also consider the lives of our constituents because we’re still in a pandemic,” he said.

Several digital billboards targeting Whitmer were purchased by Swift Broadcasting Company CEO Steve Swick last week near Angola, Ind., on I-69 and on the Toll Road, according to a story in the Detroit Free Press. Swick told the paper he is a former Michigan resident and still owns several stations in Michigan, and believes the Whitmer administration is guilty of government overreach.

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