Michigan Harper’s Bar reopens, infects 88 with COVID

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Alexa Ligon had not been partying for months. She returned home from college in California to be quarantined during the coronavirus pandemic with her parents in East Lansing, Michigan.

So when the bars and restaurants in the area finally reopened on June 8, she and a group of friends finally came out for one of her birthdays at Harper’s Restaurant & Brew Pub, a popular college bar. They did not wear masks, he said, because the bar did not require them.

“I’ve been locked up for so long that it was finally an opportunity to go out with some friends. It was obviously attractive,” said Ligon. “I have never met anyone who has become ill.”

Now 88 cases of COVID-19 date back to that bar. Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail told BuzzFeed News on Monday that she expects that number to increase.

“I doubt that we passed 51 cases on Thursday, 76 Friday [morning].85 by the end of the day, “Vail said,” just 3 more over the weekend. “

The age range of infected people at Harper’s skews young people, ages 16 to 28, like their crowd. The average age is 21 years old. At least 25 of them are students from Michigan State University.

Now, the Ingham County Health Department is asking everyone who visited the bar between June 12 and its closure on June 20 to be quarantined for two weeks.

Ligon and his friends were on June 15. So far, none of them have had any symptoms. His parents have taken his temperature every day. She said she would be tested, but doesn’t know where it is available, and none of her friends got tested.

She has been a little nervous about getting sick, particularly after reading media reports about Harper and meeting two other people she knows who tested positive for COVID-19.

“I think I made the decision to go, so if I had to get it, it would be my decision,” Ligon said. “I chose to go out and not wear a mask and go to a place where I risk catching him.”

But Vail said the pressure should be on companies to implement rules and require customers to follow them. He said he visited a casino restaurant that checked people’s temperatures, had tables clearly 6 feet apart and had all customers in masks until they were seated ready to eat.

“More and more companies that definitely don’t want to close again need to understand that they are our biggest enforcement army right now,” Vail said. “Their ability to remain open lies in their own hands.”

Harper complied with the government’s social distancing guidelines, which include limiting the bar’s capacity to 50%. (Vail said he understands that Harper’s guests actually limited to 225 when he could technically have allowed 250.)

“It’s usually, like, insanely crowded there,” Ligon said. “Honestly, it was very empty when I went.”

Part of the problem, Vail explained, is that not all bars and restaurants are created equal.

“In general, there are bars and restaurants that someone my age could go to, where the tables are 6 feet away. You sit down, have dinner and go home,” said Vail, 59. “Bars and restaurants one might consider a nightclub, since they also have a DJ and a dance floor, they are still a bar and a restaurant. You can’t dissect that.”

The video from the night Harper reopened shows a crowded dance floor.

In a Facebook post, Harper blamed the lack of social detachment with people waiting outside the crowded venue.

“We have tried to instruct customers waiting in line to cover their faces and practice social distancing through signs on the public sidewalk and with a banner on our railing,” the company wrote. “Our supervision of the line on our stairs has been successful, but trying to get customers to follow our recommendations on the public sidewalk has been challenging. Because we have no authority to control the lines on public property, we are left with the dilemma of staying open and letting this situation continue, or closing until we can design a strategy that eliminates the lines entirely. “

The video of the line from the night the bar reopened shows that people were not wearing masks and were not socially estranged.

However, the governor’s executive order to clearly reopen allows companies to deny entry to people who refuse to wear a mask, and companies should take advantage of that, Vail said.

“My friends and I wore masks, but it wasn’t required, so we didn’t wear them,” said Ligon. She said she would have happily worn her mask in place if it had been an entry condition.

But Ligon said she was completely shocked by the news of the outbreak at Harper’s.

“I don’t know how up-to-date they were in terms of hygiene. There was no soap in the men’s room,” he said, adding that a client was handing out disinfectant to people.

Harper did not respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News.

So far, Harper’s positive cases have been mild, with up to a third asymptomatic. No one has been hospitalized. The data shows that young people are more likely to be asymptomatic and only experience a mild version of the virus. However, young people sometimes become seriously ill and many of them live with older relatives.

“Our concern, honestly, is secondary infections,” Vail said, noting that 3 of the 88 cases so far were people who didn’t come to Harper.

The bar has closed for the moment while it implements a greater social distancing and modifies its air conditioning system.

But that is not enough for Ligon.

“I would never go out to a bar again,” he said.