As summer hits, many Michiganders seem to be done with the coronavirus. The coronavirus isn’t done with them.
MICHIGAN — As coronavirus cases spike nationwide, prompting new restrictions in some states, Michigan’s own resurgence — while mild by comparison to some states — is no less cause for alarm.
“Our numbers are not as strong today as they were a couple of weeks ago,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told reporters. “We have seen preventable spread in areas across our state. We can’t let our guard down. We can, and we must, get this under control now.”
Michigan reported more than 100 new cases every day since June 15, and the case numbers have generally been trending upward. Meanwhile, Michigan’s case fatality rate (the number of cases that result in death) still remains above 9%, while the national fatality rate is below 5%.
Michigan also reported 32 deaths Tuesday, the highest daily total since June 6.
At least some of this spread is directly related to the reopening of bars and restaurants across the state in mid-June. One bar in particular, Harper’s Restaurant and Brewpub in East Lansing, has become a symbol of the role of bars in spreading the virus.
Bars and Other Superspreaders
As The ̕Gander previously reported, Harper’s has been an epicenter of the cases in Ingham County, accounting for the lion’s share of new diagnoses in the past week. What started with 14 related cases has expanded to include 118 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Tuesday, according to WLNS.
That is an increase of 104 confirmed cases linked to a single bar over the course of exactly one week.
104 of the Harper’s cases are primary, meaning the people infected were actually present at Harper’s, while 14 people contracted the virus from someone who was there. One case involved a person bringing the virus from Harper’s to their home in Metro Detroit.
This has downgraded Ingham County’s coronavirus management status from Phase 3 to Phase 2, an acknowledgement that the county has lost major ground in its effort to mitigate the pandemic. Despite initial confusion, Gov. Whitmer’s office is not reversing the Lansing area’s progress toward economic reengagement just yet — restaurants can still be open for dine-in service.
But Ingham County itself has tightened capacity restrictions on those businesses.
“Large crowds are difficult to control,” Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail told WLNS. “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.”
Given how rapidly cases related to Harper’s expanded, eyes now fall on Royal Oak’s Fifth Avenue sports bar, where Oakland County health officials traced three new coronavirus cases to Monday.
“We are urging all of our businesses, especially the bars which are attracting crowds, to follow the governor’s orders and take the necessary steps to protect their workers and customers,” Oakland County Executive David Coulter told WXYZ. “We have made good progress in managing what is a highly contagious virus and we can’t backslide now. Social distancing and facial coverings work and they are critical to our safe re-opening strategies.”
Over the past week, Kent, Ottawa, Genesee, and Houghton counties have all seen additional spikes in coronavirus diagnoses. Bars have been major sources of transmission across Michigan, including in these areas.
WXYZ also reported on another potential superspreader, Lake St. Clair’s Jobbie Nooner event. Jobbie Nooner is an annual party held just south of St. Clair County and is the second-largest boat party in the Midwest. Jobbie Nooner took place in 2020 despite the pandemic. At the celebration, thousands from across the Great Lakes gathered on boats, and few wore masks.
“I for sure see that this is a very big possibility of spreading the COVID,” Sgt. Marty Stoyan of the St. Clair County Sheriff Marine Division told WXYZ. “It’s a non-sanctioned event. There’s nobody that’s actually taking responsibility for having Jobbie Nooner. So there’s no way to stop it.”
But the Jobbie Nooner event wasn’t the only mass maritime gathering Michigan has seen in recent weeks. Supporters of President Donald Trump threw a MAGA boat parade on June 13, a day before the president’s 74th birthday.
“It’s a good way to show our support, and it’s safe,” one attendant told MLive.
But check out the original event listing on Facebook and it becomes clear that safety wasn’t at the forefront when planning or executing the event.
“Let’s show SUPPORT for our PRESIDENT!!! Make this the Biggest boat Parade YET! Parade is on June 13th whether Whitmer EXTENDS or NOT !” reads the description, which references Gov. Whitmer’s stay-at-home order.
And images from the event show hardly any masks, either.
Ramifications for Michigan
While the Lansing and Grand Rapids areas are not presently seeing restrictions to prevent the virus’s spread, that is a real possibility for the future if the backslide in those regions continues.
Despite great strides mitigating the pandemic throughout the months of May and June, Michigan still had a lot of work ahead of it as the state recovered from being one of the hardest-hit in the nation.
Military Times reports that Michigan is one of only three states where service members are not permitted to travel (the others being California and Florida). Michigan’s failure to demonstrate a 14-day decline in new cases and new instances of coronavirus-like symptoms has prevented it from green-light status.
The pandemic has also prompted the University of Michigan to scrap its planned October presidential debate to protect students’ health.
“As the weather improves and summer holidays approach, we cannot play fast and loose with the rules,” said Gov. Whitmer. “Just one person who lets their guard down can infect countless others.”
She said she hoped Michiganders would avoid crowded sand bars or large cookouts this July 4th weekend and encouraged small, socially distant holiday celebrations.
Gov. Whitmer has long characterized the state’s approach as a dial that can be turned up or down depending on the state of the pandemic, fine-tuning the state’s response to public health needs. Whether such intervention will be needed is still unclear.