As stories of coronavirus infection-spreading at major American universities hit the national news, the Ingham County Health Department has issued an order limiting the size of outdoor gatherings in several student-heavy neighborhoods of East Lansing.
No more than 25 people will be allowed to gather together outdoors in a swath of East Lansing that includes and surrounds downtown. The order will remain in effect until explicitly lifted.
According to a press release issued today by the City of East Lansing, “The restricted area stretches from the northern edge of the Michigan State University campus to Burcham Drive and is bounded by Harrison Road to the west and Hagadorn Road to the east, including properties adjacent to those streets.”
How was that area chosen? The press release indicates that “County and City officials identified the area based on the frequency of noise ordinance violations historically occurring in the area due to large house parties.”
Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail told ELi by phone today that the 25-person outdoor gathering limit will apply even for houses that have legal occupancies higher than 25. (Many fraternities, sororities, and student coops in East Lansing have occupancies higher than 25.)
Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s current Executive Orders limit outdoor gatherings to 100, but Ingham County Health officials felt that wasn’t strict enough for this section of East Lansing, with MSU students returning.
Indoor gatherings are limited to ten people according to the Governor’s current orders, unless people are living within the same household.
As for the big East Lansing houses like frats, sororities, and coops, Vail said she “wouldn’t advise [residents] to be in common rooms together over ten people without social distancing.”
But she was not sure whether they would be legally violating an order if they did so, given that they technically count as being in a single household.
According to Vail, “ELPD will be doing the vast majority of enforcement” of this new anti-outdoor-party order. She said that ELPD officers can break up problem gatherings and advise people they are violating the regulations.
She also said ELPD can also arrest someone if they witness someone violating an emergency order.
Violation of the orders constitutes a misdemeanor punishable for up to six months in jail or a $200 fine or both.
The limit on outdoor gatherings won’t apply to “schools, childcare organizations, community centers, places of religious worship, farmers markets and parks within the restricted area,” although those are still subject to the 100-person outdoor limit imposed by the state. (Restaurants and bars fall under different regulations.)
City Manager George Lahanas is quoted in today’s press release as sounding optimistic about the chances to get people to behave: “By limiting the size of social gatherings, wearing masks in public spaces and following the other everyday preventative measures that public health officials have recommended, we can stay safe to stay open.”
But as ELi reports in an article coming later today, residents are expressing frustration at seeing people on and off campus not wearing masks even where it has been mandated.
In today’s announcement, MSU President Stanley spoke to the concerns of year-round residents: “The lines that once divided campus from our neighbors are becoming less so in the spirit of protecting one another.”
ELi has reported extensively on the outbreak linked to Harper’s Restaurant and Brew Pub in downtown East Lansing, to which almost 200 cases of COVID-19 have been linked.