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East Lansing Bar Owners Must Present Reopening Plan to the State Following COVID-19 Outbreak

More than 180 cases have been tied to the Harper’s outbreak

A bartender in black gloves pours beer into a disposable plastic glass. Piotr Piatrouski/Shutterstock
Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

An East Lansing bar tied to COVID-19 outbreak across multiple Michigan counties is being ordered to present its reopening plan to the state Liquor Control Commission and to defend its licenses and permits. According to an order issued today by the MLCC, the owners of Harper’s Restaurant & Brewpub must appear for a Zoom hearing with commissioners on Thursday, July 23 at 1 p.m.

Harper’s voluntarily closed on Monday, June 22, when it was reported that 14 new cases COVID-19 had been traced back to the Michigan State University-area bar. A press release issued by Ingham County on Tuesday, June 23 stated that “inspectors from the Ingham County Health Department found Harper’s following appropriate safety procedures related to employees, restaurant capacity and table spacing.” However, videos and images of crowds inside and outside the bar seemed to tell a different story. They showed customers failing to social distance or wear masks circulated widely in the days prior to the closure. In a statement issued shortly after the initial closure, the restaurant operators admitted to challenges managing “long lines on the public sidewalk in front of our building.” The restaurant promised to review its policies for managing crowds and to install a new HVAC air purifying system to improve safety.

Meanwhile, new cases tied to Harper’s ballooned over the following weeks to more than 180 infections. Those infections were among people who visited Harper’s on different dates and people who came into contact with visitors from Harper’s at secondary locations. According to the MLCC order, at least one of the people who was infected was a worker at another Lansing restaurant or bar, “creating an outbreak risk at that licensed establishment.” The massive outbreak made national headlines and became a cautionary tale for cities and states moving to reopen restaurants and bars.

The MLCC points to widespread media coverage in its order, writing that “New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio cited Harper’s as an example of why New York City establishments should remain closed.” The committee’s formal notice also references videos that allegedly showed unseated customers inside Harper’s without face coverings, in violation of a state executive order.

In Ingham County where the cases originated, a new order was issued limiting bar and restaurant capacity to 50 percent capacity or no more than 75 people. Since then, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has issued a new order limiting bars to patio-only and to-go service everywhere but in Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. Harper’s isn’t the only bar to be linked to new cases of the disease. Fifth Avenue, a club in Royal Oak, was recently linked to three cases of the virus and three employees at a Red Robin in Macomb County tested positive for COVID-19. Many of the new cases are among younger people.

The novel coronavirus is very contagious and people who are asymptomatic can still pass it on to others without ever showings signs of the disease. People can help prevent the spread of the virus a few simple measures including wearing a mask over your nose and mouth in public, staying six feet apart from others, washing hands regularly, and staying home when sick.

Harper's Order to Show Cause

East Lansing Bar Harper’s Linked to Virus Cases to Detail Reopening Plans to Liquor Commission [Detroit News]
Outbreak Connected to East Lansing Bar Balloons to 85 Cases, Spreads to Grosse Pointe Area [ED]
Coronavirus Cases Tied to Michigan Bar Are a Reminder of the Risks of Pandemic Dining [ED]
Ingham County Reduces Restaurant Capacity in Response to Growing Outbreak Linked to Harper’s [ED]