Many Michigan diners heralded the reopening of restaurant dining rooms on Monday, June 8 as a return to some form of normalcy in the pandemic. However, a new batch of novel coronavirus cases traced to an East Lansing bar are shedding light on the risks of dining out.
Health officials in Ingham County are telling customers of Harper’s Restaurant and Brew Pub who visited the establishment between Friday, June 12 and Saturday, June 20 to seek testing for COVID-19 and self-quarantine. At least 51 new cases of novel coronavirus are linked to the Harper’s outbreak, according to WDIV. Of those cases, 49 represent people who actually visited the bar. Most of the confirmed cases were people in their late teens and early 20s. Symptoms can take up to 14 days to surface.
East Lansing Info reported that Harper’s had received notice on Sunday, June 21, that a woman with COVID-19 had visited the restaurant likely while she had the disease. The restaurant temporarily closed on Monday.
Harper’s addressed issues with crowd control in a statement, noting that the business “experienced long lines on the public sidewalk in front of our building” following its reopening. Harper’s owners stated that the business was successful in controlling crowds on its property, but struggled with enforcing social distancing and face mask use on public sidewalks. The restaurants and bar is closing in order to reevaluate how to control crowds gathering at the business. The restaurant plans to eliminate lines and install a new HVAC air purifying system to help control the spread of viruses within the restaurant.
Harper’s isn’t alone. On Friday, June 19, Lansing Brewing Co. announced it was temporarily closing after a COVID-19 positive individual entered the brewery. Likewise, restaurants and bars across the country are reportedly closing under similar circumstances. In Los Angeles, the popular Bub & Grandma’s Bakery halted operations and advised customers to throw out their bread after an employee tested positive. Eater Dallas has identified at least a dozen temporary restaurant and bar closures attributed to positive COVID-19 cases. In Vegas, employees at five on- and off-strip restaurants and two casino employees have tested positive for the virus and in Atlanta multiple restaurants have temporarily closed due to virus cases (some more than once).
While customers can make the choice to dine out at their own risk, employees have fewer options to protect themselves. Food and beverage workers in Michigan are required to wear a mask securely over their nose and mouth to prevent the spread of the virus by asymptomatic carriers. Customers are only required to wear masks when not seated at their table, potentially exposing others in the vicinity to airborne droplets.
Many workers speaking with the Detroit Free Press expressed fears about the necessity of returning to work in a pandemic — especially when they aren’t being provided with health care and benefits. Some employees feel like they do not have a choice, particularly as their unemployment benefits are set to expire. Those who refuse to accept their jobs back could also jeopardize their benefits. At the same time, they have to deal with other employees who may not follow the guidelines as strictly or combative customers who refuse to wear masks.
All public activities during the pandemic carry risks, and dining is especially complicated. When someone asks if there’s such a thing as “safe” dining with zero risk, the answer is no. Even with restaurants taking lots of precautions, nothing is a guarantee. There are, however, things one can do to mitigate risk for themselves and others, like wearing a mask in public over both your nose and your mouth, washing your hands regularly, avoiding touching your face, and staying home when sick. Customers should also be conscious of the precautions businesses are taking and try to reduce contact with other people. Staying home and eating takeout generally carries less risk than eating and drinking in public.
Update: June 26, 10:54 a.m.: The current case count linked to the Harper’s outbreak has risen to 51 people including 49 people who visited the bar. Health officials are now advising people who visited the bar during specified dates to self-quarantine and seek testing.
Update: June 24, 4:42 p.m.: This story was updated to reflect the current case count associated with the Harper’s outbreak is now 34 people.
Update: June 24, 1:36 p.m.: This story was updated to reflect that the current case count associated with the Harper’s outbreak is 25 people.
Update, June 24, 9:16 a.m.: This story was updated to reflect that the current case count associated with the Harper’s outbreak is 22 people.
Update, June 23, 4:24 p.m.: This story was updated at to reflect that the new case count from the Harper’s outbreak is 18 people.
Eater is tracking the impact of the novel coronavirus on the local food industry. Have a story to share? Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Following Widespread Public Criticism about Unmasked Crowds, Harper’s Closes to Regroup [East Lansing Info]
• At Least 14 Coronavirus (COVID-19) Cases Linked to Bar in East Lansing [WDIV]
• Lansing Brewing Co. Closed Due to COVID-19 Concerns [Lansing State Journal]
• Restaurant Workers Ask What They’re Rushing Back to Work For [Freep]
• How Coronavirus Is Impacting the Detroit Food and Beverage Industry [ED]
• All Coronavirus Coverage [E]