EAST LANSING, Mich. — Harper’s Restaurant & Brew Pub in East Lansing is making changes to make sure another COVID-19 outbreak doesn’t happen again.
The bar, linked to a nearly 200-person COVID-19 outbreak, said it’s working to prevent another one. It’s part of the argument the restaurant at 131 Albert St. is making to keep its liquor license.
There were 187 cases of COVID-19 linked to Harper’s when it opened for less than two weeks in June. that drew the attention of the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.
The commission is trying to find out what happened when Harper’s reopened. The owners told the commission at a hearing Thursday they had a plan to keep things under control, but it wasn’t enough.
After Gov. Gretchen Whitmer lifted Michigan’s stay at home order and allowed bars to reopen, mostly people in their 20s packed the bar and lined up out the door. The coronavirus cases are linked to people who were there June 12-20.
June 20 was the last day Harper’s was open.
“The reason we closed was because of the line situation, which we were unhappy with,” owner Patrick Riley said.
Riley said they opened at only a quarter of capacity, which was stricter than even the state was requiring at the time. He said they weren’t ready for the large crowds when they opened.
“We made sure we had ID checkers and door people so we could accommodate,” Riley said. “We could be prepared for an eventuality. We didn’t think the eventuality would be as large as it was.”
Riley said they did make changes in the 12 days they were open to try to control the crowd.
“There were tables on the dance floor trying to eliminate space for people to go out there, and then we added three huge concrete tables to that area that were not able to be used by patrons,” Riley said.
Riley said Whitmer’s latest order requiring businesses to refuse service to people not wearing masks will help.
“We thought the people had the freedom to deny wearing face masks, so we had that at the front door,” Riley said. “We wanted them to wear face masks but we weren’t going to fight with them at that time.”
Harper’s said when it reopens, it will have a line management app to help control the lines outside. Owners said that app will also keep track of customers to help health officials with contact tracing for potential future outbreaks.
The commission will decide if Harper’s will face any penalties. Those could include having their liquor license suspended or revoked.
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