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Michigan Gov. Whitmer closes indoor bar services in most of state after COVID-19 spike

Indoor bar service shut down across Michigan, excluding Upper Peninsula, Traverse City Region

Alcoholic drinks at a bar.
Alcoholic drinks at a bar. (Pexels)

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is shutting down indoor bar services throughout most of the state amid a spike in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases.

RELATED: How people ignoring safety measures, packing into bars has led to COVID-19 spike

This is Michigan’s first step backward throughout the reopening process after reaching phase four of the governor’s reopening plan.

Indoor bar service in six of the state’s eight geographical regions will be shut down, excluding the Upper Peninsula and Traverse City Region -- the only two regions in phase five of reopening.

Whitmer’s announcement comes as the number of confirmed cases linked to an outbreak at Harper’s Restaurant and Brew Pub in East Lansing continue to rise. On Wednesday, health officials confirmed 138 positive COVID-19 cases have been linked to the bar, including 119 people who were customers there between June 12 and June 20.

Also on Wednesday, Whitmer signed a package of bills allowing restaurants to serve alcoholic drinks to-go and via delivery.

READ: Michigan bars, restaurants can now deliver alcoholic drinks, sell them to-go, offer 2-for-1 deals

“Following recent outbreaks tied to bars, I am taking this action today to slow the spread of the virus and keep people safe,” Whitmer said. “If we want to be in a strong position to reopen schools for in-person classroom instruction this fall, then we need to take aggressive action right now to ensure we don’t wipe out all the progress we have made.”

Over the past week, every region in Michigan has seen an uptick in new coronavirus cases, and daily case counts now exceed 20 cases per million in the Grand Rapids, Lansing and Kalamazoo regions.

Nearly 25% of diagnoses in June were of people ages 20 to 29, up from roughly 16% in May. That shift aligns with national trends, and the evidence suggests that young people may be driving a new phase of the pandemic, according to state officials.

As bars have reopened for indoor service across the country, some have been linked to a growing number of large outbreaks.

Health experts said bars are often crowded and poorly ventilated, which makes the spread of COVID-19 much more likely. They are often noisy, requiring raised voices, which leads to more projection of viral droplets.

Alcohol also reduces inhibitions and decreases compliance with mask use and physical distancing rules, state officials said.

“I urge all Michiganders to double down on mitigation tactics like wearing masks, practicing physical distancing, and washing hands, so we can get our trajectory headed in the right direction again,” Whitmer said. “If we open up our economy too quickly, the efforts of the last three months will be for nothing and we will have to go through this pain all over again and put our economy, health and medical system at risk. Nobody wants to move backward. Everyone, please do your part, and let’s show the nation and the world how smart we are.”

MORE: Video shows Royal Oak bar linked to COVID-19 cases was crowded without social distancing

The governor’s order applies to establishments with on-premises retailer liquor licenses that earn more than 70% of their gross receipts from alcohol sales. That means most brewpubs, distilleries and vineyards can stay open indoors. Traditional bars, nightclubs and strip clubs will have to end indoor service.

Gov. Whitmer orders indoor bars closed.
Gov. Whitmer orders indoor bars closed. (WDIV)

“Bars will not have to close down completely, but may still offer outdoor seating and use creative methods like cocktails-to-go in hopes that we can bring our numbers down,” Whitmer said. “I am hopeful providing options for cocktails-to-go and expanded social districts will ensure these businesses can remain open and Michiganders can safely and responsibly enjoy their summer outdoors.”


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