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Michigan’s Top Health Official Says Bars Must Remain Closed for Indoor Service

“While we’re still trying to get a handle on this virus, it is very appropriate for our bars to remain closed,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said at a press conference

customers sit at the bar inside Mutiny, a tiki bar with netting, lights, paper umbrellas, and a thatched roof over the bar
Bars are currently closed for indoor service under a state executive order.
Michelle Gerard
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.

On Wednesday, September 16 during a state briefing on the novel coronavirus pandemic response, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy director for Health for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, impressed upon viewers and media outlets the ongoing need for bars to remain closed for indoor service. Khaldun said at the press conference:

Some have specifically asked why bars are not open even though people can purchase an alcoholic beverage in a restaurant. So there’s data that shows that many outbreaks of COVID-19 across the U.S. have originated in indoor bars and restaurants. Bars in particular are associated with unique risk factors: Lots of people, tight spaces, and alcohol, leading people to change their behaviors and increasing the risk of spread of COVID-19.

Here in Michigan, prior to the governor tightening her executive order, there were several outbreaks at bars that impacted hundreds of people. So while we’re still trying to get a handle on this virus, it is very appropriate for our bars to remain closed.

Bars — specifically classified as establishments for which 70 percent or more of sales are alcohol — outside of northern Michigan, have been closed for indoor service since Wednesday, July 1. In the Grand Traverse area and Upper Peninsula bars were barred from serving customer inside on Thursday, July 30. Since then, those those establishments have been limited to outdoor-only service and to-go cocktail throughout the summer, as opposed to restaurants and breweries that have continued to serve customers at 50 percent capacity inside.

The restrictions were put in place following several large outbreaks traced to establishments such as Harper’s in East Lansing, associated with more than 180 cases across multiple counties, and Fifth Avenue Bar in Royal Oak.

As winter approaches, many businesses are beginning to worry about how they will pay their bills when the weather worsens. The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association introduced proposals this week asking the state to loosen some capacity and service restrictions to help the industry in the coming months.

Restaurants and bars accounted for roughly 6.6 percent of all reported outbreaks in the state last week, according to state data. There were only three reported outbreaks tied to bars; each outbreak was categorized as ongoing, meaning it was identified more than two weeks ago and all were in region 2S, an area representing Monroe, Washtenaw, and Wayne counties. Restaurants and bars are considered a high-risk environment for contracting COVID-19. According to the CDC, “adults with positive SARS-CoV-2 test results were approximately twice as likely to have reported dining at a restaurant than were those with negative SARS-CoV-2 test results.”

Tracking COVID-19 Outbreaks in Michigan’s Food Industry [ED]
Gov. Whitmer Orders Michigan Bars Closed For Indoor Service Everywhere But Up North [ED]
Michigan Executive Order Closes Bars Up North for Indoor Service [ED]
All Bars Coverage [ED]