Pointing at Harper’s, Health Dept. Now Stops All Restaurants from Hosting Over 75 People

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Alice Dreger for ELi

The scene outside Harper's in downtown East Lansing on Friday, June 19, at about 9:30 p.m.

“With the total of number of cases linked to Harper’s Restaurant & Brew Pub now at 107,” the Health Department just announced, “Ingham County has issued an emergency order reducing restaurant capacity to 50 percent or no more than 75 people, whichever is less.”

Ingham County’s Health Department is taking this extraordinary measure in response to the coronavirus outbreak at Harper’s, which continues to grow and have ramifications throughout East Lansing, Lansing, and beyond.

Even the Mayor of New York City is now talking about Harper’s in discussions of whether New York should reopen restaurants.

In East Lansing the new order means the following alcohol-selling establishments will see their capacities reduced further, to only 75 people each: Cosmos/Punk Taco, Barrio’s, Spartan Hall of Fame, Field House, The Riv, PT O’Malley’s, Los Tres Amigos, Applebee’s, Landshark, El Azteco, Jolly Pumpkin (once open), Beggar’s Banquet, Harrison Roadhouse, HopCat, Dublin Square, Buffalo Wild Wings, Reno’s, Rick’s . . . and, of course, Harper’s.

City Council member Jessy Gregg tells ELi she’s happy to see this move.

“This will be a substantial improvement in safe restaurant operation,” she said in response to a request for comment.

Gregg said she still wants to see restaurants taking a lot of care, and noted that, “With an even smaller number of patrons allowed inside, we need to address the crowds on the sidewalks. That’s one of the things on our agenda for tomorrow’s special [Council] meeting so hopefully we will be able to take care of that problem soon.”

Council member Lisa Babcock said she is “pleased this has finally happened. I have heard from many people distressed over Harper’s conduct. They’ve begged the city to do something, and I have had to tell them that the City of East Lansing doesn’t have the power to act – only the county or state can reduce occupancy in restaurants and bars.”

Babcock added, “I hope the 75-person limit is workable for the restaurants and bars that have been good citizens. This is a very hard time for them and the bad publicity from Harper’s has made things even worse. Unfortunately, laws are made for the lowest common denominator.”

The 107 cases in the Harper’s cluster includes 95 primary cases (people who were at Harper’s during the June 12-20 exposure window) and 12 secondary cases (people who are thought to have picked up the disease from someone who went to Harper’s).

Everyone who was at Harper’s from June 12-20 is still being asked to self-quarantine and get tested.  

Ingham County Health says no one in the Harper’s cluster has been hospitalized. “Most have mild symptoms with 28 people being asymptomatic. At least 40 percent are Michigan State University (MSU) students or recent graduates.”

Crunchy’s owner and manager Mike Krueger tells Eli he understands today’s decision.

Said Krueger, “the bottom line is, people need to feel comfortable and safe going out to restaurants, and while it seems that a good majority of the student-aged population feels comfortable regardless of the rules, hopefully this ruling, in addition to restaurants REQUIRING masks for patrons, as well as all of the other disinfecting procedures we are all doing, will help the rest of the population feel better about dining out.”

Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail sees breaking up crowds as an important public health measure.

“Large crowds are difficult to control,” said Vail in the press release. “By allowing no more than 75 people, restaurants and bars will be better able to enforce social distancing and the use of masks and face coverings. I strongly encourage all bars and restaurants to strictly enforce safety measures and to do all they can to help stop the spread of coronavirus in our community.”

State law gives Vail the authority to take this approach. Disobeying the order could land someone 90 days in jail and/or a $200 fine.

 The Health Department has decided to offer a special testing opportunity for the community tomorrow, June 30, from 12 – 4 pm on campus, at 846 Service Road in East Lansing.

“There is no cost, and no appointment is necessary,” the press release indicates.

The State of Michigan has a website that offers information about other options for testing.

 ELi reached out to all members of Council and many members of the restaurant community, including the owners of Harper’s, for comment. We will update this report as those come in.

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