The line outside Harper's Restaurant and Brewpub. Photo via East Lansing Info
The line outside Harper's Restaurant and Brewpub. Photo via East Lansing Info

Nearly half of Ingham County’s cases from the past week have been connected to one bar in East Lansing.

EAST LANSING, MI — A pub linked to at least 34 coronavirus cases has closed its doors again after long lines and unmasked patrons flooded the newly-reopened college town bar. 

Just days after reopening during the pandemic, a first round of 14 young people were diagnosed with the coronavirus after visiting Harper’s Restaurant & Brewpub, an East Lansing bar serving the Michigan State University community. 

Of the initial cases, half were also linked to MSU according to the State News

The State News reports the total number of cases connected to Harper’s has risen to 34 as of June 24. Local health officials expect that number to rise.

By June 26, WILX reports that number rose to 63.

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In the past week, Ingham County reported 74 new cases of the coronavirus according to state figures, which means the cases connected to Harper’s account for nearly half of the county’s spread.

“Given the number of cases in this outbreak, we consider this a higher risk exposure than a typical visit to a restaurant or bar,” Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said in a release. “There are likely more people infected with COVID-19 not yet identified. We need help from people who went to Harper’s during the exposure dates so that we can contain the outbreak. We need everyone exposed to stay home.”

Ingham County reported that most of the 34 have mild symptoms and none have been hospitalized, but some have permanent residences in other countries. Even those who have been to Harper’s and tested negative are encouraged to self-quarantine. 

“Anyone could have COVID-19. You never know because some people with coronavirus are not yet sick, and some people never have signs of the disease,” said Vail. “We need people to treat every person they encounter as a potential carrier. That means wearing masks and keeping 6 feet away from others. I strongly urge everyone to take precautions so that we can keep infections down and keep businesses open.”

Videos on social media showed long lines to get into Harper’s after the bar reopened, and many patrons in line did not wear masks. 

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In a now-inaccessible Facebook post, Harper’s announced closing to create a plan to eliminate lines. The pub offered “heartfelt thanks to all of our friends and loyal customers for the past 23 years,” and acknowledged that the pandemic has been a hard time for everyone.

“This decision comes after much deliberation within our family,” the post read. “Although we have developed and implemented procedures above and beyond the State’s requirements for re-opening, and made significant financial investments in complete touch-free restrooms, our family feels the responsibility to do more.”

In an attempt to also curb the spread of the virus, the pub vowed to install an air purification system. However, the Environmental Protection Agency says that air purification systems are not sufficient to protect against coronavirus infections. Digital Trends explains this is a result of just how small viruses are, and the coronavirus’s multiple means of infection.

The Ingham County Health Department reported that Harper’s adhered to all the required standards for reopening restaurants, though it was not enough to prevent the spread of the virus in the crowds it was drawing. 

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“This closing will cause a hardship on many of our employees through the loss of wages that had just re-started,” the post continued. “This at a time when they are just overcoming a three-month layoff. They have rent, mortgages, car payments, grocery bills and everyday living expenses to address. But we believe for the safety of all, it is the right thing to do.”

As Michigan has made great strides in reopening, Harper’s proves a cautionary tale for other businesses preparing to reopen indoor dining options. Other states have seen record spread of the coronavirus following reopening, reports the Wall Street Journal.