Patrons hoping to stop at their favorite watering hole for a drink are going to have to get it outside, at least in the lower part of the state.
After spikes in COVID-19 cases were linked to bars in several spots around the country, including a couple in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Wednesday signed an executive order closing indoor service at bars throughout most of lower Michigan.
Regions 6 and 8, which include the Upper Peninsula and much of northern Michigan, are excluded from the order, and bars statewide can continue to serve outdoors. 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.
“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,” Whitmer said. “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.”
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Over the past week, every region in Michigan has seen an uptick in new 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.
As bars have reopened for indoor service across the country, some have been linked to a growing number of large outbreaks. In Michigan, for example, health officials in Ingham County have linked 107 confirmed COVID-19 cases to an outbreak in a single bar in East Lansing. Similar super-spreader events have been documented in bars in Florida, Louisiana, Texas and elsewhere.
Bars are often crowded, indoors and poorly ventilated — all of which make it easy to spread COVID-19 from person to person. Bars also encourage mingling among groups and facilitate close contact over an extended period of time. They are noisy, requiring raised voices and allowing for more projection of viral droplets. And they serve alcohol, which reduces inhibitions and decreases compliance with mask use and physical distancing rules.
“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.”
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 that most brewpubs, distilleries, and vineyards can stay open indoors. Traditional bars, nightclubs, and strip clubs will have to end indoor service.
Whitmer also signed Senate Bill 942 and House Bills 5781 and 5811 into law, which 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.”