COVID-19 case spike closes indoor bar service in most of Mich.

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Indoor service at bars and restaurants has once again been closed at the order of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer after the number of COVID-19 cases linked to bars around the state have risen. 

Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-143 Wednesday, which closes indoor service at bars throughout most of lower Michigan, excluding the Upper Peninsula and much of northern Michigan. The order goes into effect at 11 p.m. Wednesday.

Bars statewide can continue to serve outdoors. 

“We owe it to our front line heroes who have sacrificed so much during this crisis to do everything we can to slow the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the chance of a resurgence like we are seeing in other states,” said Whitmer. “Following recent outbreaks tied to bars, I am taking this action today to slow the spread of the virus and keep people safe. 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.” 

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

Gov. unveils school reopening plan, warns about rise in younger COVID-19 cases

“The evidence suggests that young people may be driving a new phase of the pandemic,” a statement released by the governor’s office said.

COVID-19 cases linked to a popular bar near Michigan State University’s campus in East Lansing, Harper’s Restaurant & Brew Pub, have increased to at least 133, according to Ingham County health officials. That’s even made national news.

Nearly 25% of COVID-19 diagnoses in June were of people ages 20 to 29, up from roughly 16% in May. 

The governor’s statement said that because bars are often crowded, indoors, poorly ventilated, encourage mingling among groups and serve alcohol, which reduces inhibitions and decreases compliance with mask use and physical distancing rules, they are high-risk venues during the pandemic. 

However, the lobbying organization for bars and restaurants criticized the decision. 

“The governor has effectively hurt every local small-town bar in the state — establishments that aren’t the bad actors,” Michigan Licensed Beverage Association Executive Director Scott Ellis said in a press release. 

State COVID-19 report: 262 new cases, 4 deaths

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, meaning traditional bars, nightclubs and strip clubs will have to end indoor service.

Under those guidelines, most brewpubs, distilleries and vineyards can stay open indoors. 

The governor also signed a package of bills allowing cocktails-to-go at bars and restaurants to help these businesses serve more Michiganders during this time. 

Senate Bill 942 and House Bills 5781 and 5811 allow bars and restaurants to sell cocktails-to-go and expand social districts to allow for more outdoor seating and areas for people to safely congregate while practicing physical distancing.

“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.” 

Legislature OKs $880M spending bill, rejects Dem asks for mental health, sick leave

FY 2020 signed

On Wednesday, Whitmer also signed SB 690, a Fiscal Year 2020 supplemental spending bill that appropriates about $880 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds.

SB 690 includes:

  • $200 million for local government support in addressing COVID-19
  • $125 million in child care relief
  • $117 in direct care worker hazard pay increases
  • $100 million in small business grants
  • $100 million in public safety officer hazard pay
  • $60 million to establish a rental assistance program
  • $43 million to assist public schools in their COVID-19 response
  • $40 million in testing supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) for priority industries like agriculture
  • $29 million in additional support and workers for the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency
  • $25 million in water utility assistance (maximum of $700 per household)
  • $10 million in grants for food banks
  • $10 million in grants for the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) to help businesses reopen safely
  • $5.1 million in additional funds for inpatient behavioral health providers
  • $5 million in multicultural integration funding for vulnerable populations
  • $4 million in grants to domestic violence shelters
  • $2.5 million for a hospitality industry employee fund
  • $1.4 million for additional staffing at skilled nursing facilities to perform infection control surveys
Allison Donahue
Allison Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.