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

Hundreds of new outbreaks are being carried to cities all across the state.

MICHIGAN — After four months of missing sunshine, friends, brewskis, and hot wings,  Michigan State University students eagerly returned to a local haunt close to many Spartans’ hearts when it reopened in East Lansing: Harper’s Restaurant & Brew Pub

However, their gathering may have been a bit too eager and a lot too lax. Harper’s is now the source of a coronavirus outbreak that extends well beyond the immediate area.

The pub has been a staple of the MSU and East Lansing communities since Trisha O’Brien Riley, an MSU grad, purchased the restaurant formerly known as Dooly’s back in 1997. The spot on Albert Avenue has since been used for gatherings by generations of graduating collegiate classes.

READ: These Michigan Colleges Aren’t Seeing Enrollment Drops Over Coronavirus. Here’s Why.

But images surfaced of long, crowded lines sans social distancing after young people gathered on the public sidewalk waiting to enter the pub. And only a few of them were seen sporting face masks. 

Ingham County officially announced that 107 cases are linked to the popular bar. Their press release said that most of the coronavirus cases are in Ingham County, but other linked cases have popped up in Clinton, Oakland, Wayne, St. Clair, Macomb, Eaton, Shiawassee, Livingston, Kalamazoo, Ottawa, Berrien, and Calhoun counties. 

Ingham County has issued an emergency order to reduce restaurant capacity as outbreak linked to local bar grows to 107. https://bit.ly/31py28l

Posted by Ingham County Health Department on Monday, June 29, 2020

“All of the people with cases linked to Harper’s are between the ages of 16 and 28 with a median age of 21,” Ingham county officials said. “None have been hospitalized. Most have mild symptoms with 28 people being asymptomatic. At least 40 percent are Michigan State University (MSU) students or recent graduates.”

Anyone who visited Harper’s between June 12 and 20 should consider themselves exposed to the virus and are asked to self-quarantine for 14 days since their visit, officials said.

Harper’s has deactivated its Facebook page, but a lengthy post on Instagram thanked customers and explained that the restaurant tried their best to manage crowds that didn’t want to socially distance.

View this post on Instagram

A heartfelt thanks to all of our friends and loyal customers for the past 23 years. It has been a very difficult time for everyone during the COVID pandemic. Harper’s re-opened at 50% capacity on June 8th according to the Governor’s executive order, and have welcomed back our employees and numerous customers to our restaurant and brewpub. The extraordinary exuberant response to our re-opening has been beyond our expectations, with clientele of all ages enjoying our deck, food from scratch, and our organic, reduced-gluten, craft-brewed beers. Along with that response, we have experienced long lines on the public sidewalk in front of our building. We have attempted to instruct customers waiting in line to wear face coverings and practice social distancing through signage on the public sidewalk and with a banner on our railing. Our oversight 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 lines on public property, we are left with the dilemma of staying open and letting this situation continue, or closing until we can devise a strategy that eliminates the lines altogether. Today we have chosen to close temporarily to do two things – implement a program to eliminate lines, and to modify our HVAC system to install state-of-the-art air purifying technology while the air is being conditioned and re-circulated. When we have finished implementing these two strategies, we will have the most state-of-the-art neighborhood venue for you to visit safely. This decision comes after much deliberation within our family. 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. This closing will cause a hardship on many of our employees through the loss of wages that had just re-started. This at a time when they are just overcoming a three-month layoff…⬇️Continued in comments ⬇️

A post shared by Harper’s Restaurant & Brewpub (@harpersmsu) on

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Spreading Quickly

The outbreak has already triggered a change in COVID-era business practices for one Grand Rapids-based restaurant and bar chain. Hopcat — which has an East Lansing location just down the street from Harper’s — is demanding safety compliance from employees and customers alike.

“If you want to partake in the privilege of eating out and drinking local craft beer from somewhere other than your couch, please understand that this is a privilege, not a right,” Hopcat said in a Facebook statement. “You have to wake up to our new reality or we won’t allow you inside our buildings. The safety of our staff and customers depends on this.”

HopCat is following (and in some cases exceeding) CDC, OSHA, and state regulations and we update our employee "Return to…

Posted by HopCat on Monday, June 29, 2020

The wave of infection that started in East Lansing reached Grosse Pointe over the weekend, where the Detroit Free Press reports 30 cases have been tied to the Harper’s outbreak more than 100 miles away.

“This is not a subject to keep quiet and pretend it doesn’t affect affluent neighborhoods such as ours. COVID takes all prisoners,” Grosse Pointe Park resident Nicole DeLano told the Free Press.  “Knowledge, quarantining, and testing will stop the spread in our community.”

Unknowingly, MSU students who attended gatherings at Harper’s in East Lansing and a subsequent party brought the virus back home to the Grosse Pointes. Small infection spikes resulted in Wayne and Oakland counties.

Three positive coronavirus cases have also been identified among visitors to one Royal Oak bar.

Fifth Avenue Sports Bar excitedly welcomed back patrons in early June after keeping their doors closed for months. Video that surfaced from last weekend showed close contact between people and a severe lack of face masks. The popular restaurant and night spot has not commented since confirmed coronavirus cases were linked to it.

We’re BACK! We can’t wait to see you! Monday June 8th! PATIO IS OFFICIALLY OPEN FOR SUMMER 2020!

Posted by Fifth Avenue Royal Oak on Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Ingham County has already issued an emergency order that reduced restaurant capacity back to 50%, with a maximum of 75 patrons.

“Large crowds are difficult to control,” said Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail. “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.”

Click here for a list of coronavirus testing sites in the state.

SEE ALSO: ‘It’s Plain Wrong’: University of Michigan Won’t Raise Tuition Cost