Last weekend, the Ingham County Health Department and East Lansing Police Department observed four downtown East Lansing bars possibly violating Covid-19-related public health orders.
No cease-and-desist orders or other official citations were issued by the Health Department in response. The hope is that warnings will bring these establishments into steady compliance.
Multiple sources have confirmed to ELi that Dublin Square, Lou & Harry’s, FieldHouse and The Tin Can Bar were believed to have violated related to state and county health orders.
The potential violations taken together included being over capacity, people not wearing masks or taking them off too much, people going from tables to the bar to order drinks, and too many people seated in one group, Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said.
Vail “found a place way over capacity,” she told ELi, although she declined to name any specific bars.
Word of her visits quickly made its way to the crowds at other bars and they soon dissipated. With a head count for only the one bar, Vail said she “chose to give them a break” and not issue a cease-and-desist. (ELi has confirmed that Vail was referring to Dublin Square.)
Several bar owners either could not be reached for comment or did not respond to inquiries from ELi.
Currently, bars and restaurants in Ingham County are limited to 50-percent capacity or 125 people, whichever number is lower.
Vail, Mayor Aaron Stephens, and Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg made clear that from this point on, the expectations are known, and no one is likely to get another break.
“I think that’s reasonable,” Stephens said of Vail offering a warning to the bars. He said that “once there is that education” about the rules and requirements, there is no excuse for violations.
“She is just doing her best to keep us safe,” Stephens said of the decision not to issue cease-and-desist orders.
The problem, Gregg said, is that short of issuing a cease-and-desist order, the City and public health officials are ultimately relying on bars and patrons to be responsible.
The City is “still hoping for a level of voluntary compliance,” said Gregg.
Pat Riley, who owns Harper’s Restaurant & Brewpub and is currently president of the Responsible Hospitality Council (RHC), said the RHC held a meeting yesterday in response to last weekend’s events.
The lack of compliance, Riley said, was due to a muddy understanding of the requirements. Currently, bars and restaurants in Ingham County are operating within the confines of two statewide executive orders and an additional county-wide order. He said that misunderstanding of the second statewide order, Executive Order 143, is where most of the issues originated.
“I believe in this instance some people had confusion,” Riley told ELi.
At Thursday’s meeting, the RHC went through every requirement in each of the health orders, Riley said, “to ensure that everybody knows exactly what the rules are and if they had any questions to make sure they asked them if they were confused.”
Made up of representatives from numerous downtown East Lansing bars and restaurants, the RHC’s goal is to create an environment of responsibility among its members. Riley notes, however, that the group is limited in its power over members as it is a non-governmental organization — and not every bar and restaurant in East Lansing is a member.
Most of the RHC’s efforts involve education and sharing of information among members and efforts to help any businesses not operating responsibly to start doing so.
According to Riley, “we’d rather have everybody acting responsibly.”
Both Riley and Stephens also made a point that it is in businesses’ best interest to keep Covid-19 cases and risks to a minimum.
“It’s not good for the rest of the businesses if any restaurant has cases,” Stephens said.
“One person could affect everybody,” said Riley.
With bars still open for the upcoming weekend and weekends beyond, the prevailing hope is that the balance between keeping bars and restaurants in business and keeping people safe can be found.
But if they’re not safe, as Gregg noted, now “it’s known” what the consequences are.
Disclosure: The RHC has been a financial sponsor of ELi.
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