At least 18 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in connection with an outbreak at Harper’s Restaurant in East Lansing, the Ingham County Health Department said Tuesday.
The health department advised anyone who was at Harper’s between June 12 and June 20 to monitor themselves for symptoms of the disease.
All those who tested positive are between the ages of 19 and 23 and around half are connected with Michigan State University, officials said.
Harper’s announced Monday that it would close for modifications.
‘We have chosen to close temporarily to do two things – implement a program to eliminate lines, and to modify our HVAC system to install an air purifying technology that will remove 99.4% of the COVID-19 virus (including other viruses, bacteria and mold) while the air is being conditioned and re-circulated,” the restaurant said Monday on its Facebook page.
The posting makes no mention of positive COVID tests.
Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said Tuesday that the health department visited Harper’s last week regarding a pair of people who had tested positive for COVID.
“My understanding is that on (June 18), we went out and visited because we interviewed people who had tested COVID positive and the connection between those two appeared to be that they were at Harper’s,” Vail said. “However, they were there on different days, and since then that number has grown and all of them connect to Harper’s.”
Vail said her staff spoke with “whoever the person in charge was on-site at the time.”
When the restaurant, a popular destination for students at MSU, reopened to dine-in customers, lines formed outside its doors and wound down the sidewalk.
“We have experienced long lines on the public sidewalk in front of our building,” the restaurant said in the posting. “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,” the restaurant said.
City Manager George Lahanas said the city doesn’t have an easy way to clear the sidewalks either.
Officials can’t simply clear people because there are rights to gather, he said, and telling people they can’t block the sidewalk isn’t a “great tool for moving a line along.”
Lahanas said, for him and other officials, the line isn’t the most concerning part. He’s more concerned about the people inside, who aren’t practicing social distancing or wearing masks and who likely have to lean in to hear each other over the music.
“In a loud bar with 250 people, it just doesn’t sound like a great formula for containing the spread,” Lahanas said.
He said as soon as Harper’s reopened and started drawing big crowds, city officials contacted MSU.
A group of people from the city, the health department, the university and the restaurant sat down to “talk about what can all do about communicating safe behaviors,” Lahanas said.
After that meeting, he said, Harper’s put more signage up encouraging patrons to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines.
“Obviously individual responsibility is a significant part of it,” Lahanas said.
He added it seems the seriousness of the pandemic “isn’t registering” with young people, if the crowds at bars in downtown East Lansing are any indicator.
Harper’s is not the first Greater Lansing restaurant to close since dine-in restarted on June 8.
The Lansing Brewing Company closed Friday after someone who had entered the facility tested positive for COVID.
The facility was deep cleaned and the brewery planned to reopen Tuesday.
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