City Leaders Trying to Disperse Bar Crowds for Public Health

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Above: Photo of Mayor Ruth Beier by Raymond Holt.

REMINDER: The City of East Lansing is under a State of Emergency and you are encouraged to practice social distancing. Read more about what the state of emergency means.

As the City remains under a state of emergency, East Lansing Mayor Ruth Beier tells ELi that City leaders are working steadily to try to figure out a way to reduce or eliminate bar crowds in East Lansing.

As MSU classes have gone to online-only and the St. Patrick Day party weekend is upon us, downtown bars are crowded, contributing to the potential of the coronavirus passing among young people at a high rate.

Whether students who get infected stay in town or disperse around the state, country, and world, City leaders see high potential for others eventually to be infected and, in a worst case scenario, killed if the City doesn’t take action now to stop large groupings of tightly-packed people.

Beier wants to at least see occupancy limits at bars temporarily reset so that it is possible for everyone to stay six feet apart, the amount required for “social distancing.”

Says Beier, “I don’t want to ruin anyone’s livelihood, but I don’t think students who get infected will quarantine themselves.”

“They’re not thinking about it,” she says. “Young people think that they are immortal and they don’t realize that people they come in contact with aren’t.”

Exacerbating the problem is the fact that there are few tests available in the state of Michigan at this point, so it is very difficult for people to even find out if they are infected.

Sources tell ELi that students who traveled for spring break to high-risk areas and who have symptoms of COVID-19 have had trouble obtaining testing here because there simply aren’t enough tests.

Health officials are scrambling to get more testing in place. Meanwhile, Governor Gretchen Whitmer has given the order to limit gatherings to fewer than 250 people, but several of East Lansing’s downtown bars can be packed body-to-body at below that rate.

City leaders have appealed to the Ingham County Health Department to help them act. But, according to Beier, Heath Officer Linda Vail of the Heath Department has said her agency cannot authorize anything more than what the governor’s order specifies at this time.

Beier says that Vail indicates the situation does not reach the legal threshold of “imminent danger.” Beier says members of City Council are frustrated with this logic and are working now with the governor’s office to try to get help. Beier tells ELi that Vail has been helping them connect with the right people to get this done and that she appreciates that help.

Council member Lisa Babcock, an attorney, has been looking into the question of whether the Liquor Control Commission might be able to help the City shut down alcohol sales. Beier confirmed City leaders are working on that angle.

ELi has a special section dedicated to our reporting on COVID-19 for East Lansing. See it here and sign up for ELi’s mailer to stay informed

This story was updated at 3:20 p.m. to include information about working to obtain help from the governor’s office.

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