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People not surprised about COVID-19 outbreak at East Lansing bar

Posted at 5:42 PM, Jun 24, 2020

EAST LANSING, MI (WSYM) - — At least 25 people who visited Harper's Restaurant & Brew Pub in East Lansing in the last two weeks now have coronavirus.

That's prompting the Ingham County Health Department to urge anyone who's been there to stay home.

There are now signs outside the bar encouraging people to wear a mask and to social distance, but people who were inside in the last two weeks say none of that was going on.

"It was like a free for all in there," said one Michigan State University student who didn't want to be identified.

Harper's is a popular spot for MSU students.

Lines going down the street were a common sight almost as soon as it opened June 12.

The student told Fox 47 she went there Wednesday and Thursday and she was surprised to see how full it was.

"Going there in the fall and in the school year, it looked no different to me. Like the normal," she said.

Harper's closed Monday after two people tested positive for COVID-19.

By Wednesday afternoon, that number jumped to more than 25.

The Ingham County Health Department said all of those cases are between 19 and 23 years old.

"That is not surprising at all," said Jamie Lining.

Lining shot video of the line June 13 when he was eating at another downtown East Lansing restaurant.

"My first thought was 'this is extremely dangerous. While we flattened the curve, but it's not gone altogether,'" Lining said.

He said as the state begins to reopen people need to think about more than just themselves.

"When you spend three months to work so hard to flatten the curve and get things open and then you do something like that, I think it's a little bit selfish," said Lining.

Health officer Linda Vail said the department is working to make changes to avoid another outbreak like this.

"We're literally getting our environmental health folks tooled up, familiar with the executive orders, what is and isn't required in restaurants relative to those and getting them out there in the field to do kind of mini consultations, educational sessions," she said.

The Ingham County Health Department is encouraging anyone who's been here in the last two weeks to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Wednesday afternoon, the owners of Harper's, Pat and Trisha Riley, released the following statement:

“Our small family business takes its role and responsibility in our community very seriously – especially when it comes to the health and safety of our customers and team members. That’s why we have taken every measure to not only meet, but exceed, local, state and federal guidance for reopening during this COVID-19 health pandemic, which has been confirmed by the Ingham County Health Department. That’s also why we have closed temporarily, to implement added safety precautions. We understand that people who tested positive for COVID-19 visited our establishment as well as several others in East Lansing. So before we are-open, we are investing in new air filtration technology as well as a virtual line management app that will help negate city sidewalk lines that we have no control or authority over. We are also making sure all of our employees are tested. As a family-owned and operated business, we will not waiver from our commitment to go above and beyond, diligently maintaining health standards and protocols to help keep our employees and guests safe.”

In their statement, Harper's owners said they'll be doing the following to mitigate the spread of COVID-19:
• Paying for as needed, regular ongoing COVID testing for all employees.
• Investing in and implementing a new virtual line management app to eliminate the outside lines that alarmed us on city sidewalks. While Harper’s had put down 6-foot social distancing markings hoping that would be a guide, the restaurant didn’t have the authority to enforce on city property. This new system should eliminate those lines.
• Investing in and modifying the air handling system with air purifying technology to help remove viruses, bacteria and more.
• To help all establishments enforce appropriate and needed measures, Harper’s is once again urging the city to remove the public drinking areas in downtown East Lansing that lead to crowding situations.

COVID-19 standards in place as well as other implemented mitigation strategies to help ensure we are the safest business open:
• All employees and suppliers must undergo a health screening process upon entering the building.
• All employees and suppliers must wear face coverings while working supplied at no charge by Harper’s.
• Frequent cleaning and deep sanitizing procedures are implemented for all contact touchpoints and customer contact surfaces.
• All tables are laid out for appropriate social distancing, and where impossible, plexiglass partitions have been installed to separate tables.
• Operating at a maximum 50% capacity.

Beyond the above local and state standards, Harper’s has implemented additional policies and procedures, and also made significant financial investments, to help make the environmentthe safest possible:
• Free face masks are provided to all customers upon entering.
• All restrooms have been made touchless environments by installing touchless hand dryers, faucets, urinal and toilet flushing devices (60 devices)
• Since re-opening, Harper’s closes two days a week to do extensive deep cleaning and sanitizing.
• Hand sanitizer is available throughout the restaurant and in the restrooms with over 100 gallons on hand.
• All plates and cookware are subjected to two-passes through our high-temperature washing and sanitizing dish machine.
• All stools at the bars have been removed to provide social distancing and reduce any longer term contact.
• Chaining deck tables to bolts on the deck so they can’t be moved and always remain 6 feet apart.
• Large banners have been placed inside and out of the building directing customers to social distance and wear face coverings.
• Encouraging customers to sit outside when weather permits to provide an outdoor air environment.
• Disposable plastic glassware is used to avoid multiple person contact of use.
• Disposable, single-use menus are used to avoid multiple person contact, and to be used as a disposable placement.
• Disposable, single-use paper napkins are used to avoid contact transfer.• Disposable plastic silverware is used to avoid multiple person use.
• Individual, sealed disposable packets of salt, pepper and condiments are provided to avoid multiple touches of traditional serving containers.
• Regular communication with all staff and management to improve policies and procedures based upon daily input.