Gov. Whitmer recloses indoor bars to keep COVID-19 down

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In response to an uptick in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a new executive order closing indoor service at bars throughout most of lower Michigan to protect the progress Michigan has made against COVID-19.

The Upper Peninsula and much of northern Michigan are excluded from the order, and bars statewide can continue to serve outdoors. Whitmer also signed a package of bills allowing cocktails to-go at bars and restaurants to help these businesses serve more customers during this time.

“We owe it to our frontline 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 (Wednesday) 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.”

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

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. They also are noisy, requiring raised voices and allowing for more projection of viral droplets. And they serve alcohol, which can reduce inhibitions and decrease 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. Everyone, please do your part, and let’s show the nation and the world how smart we are.”

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