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Alexa Ligon hadn’t been out partying for months. She returned home from college in California to quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic with her parents in East Lansing, Michigan.
So when bars and restaurants in the area finally reopened on June 8, she and a group of friends finally went out for one of their birthdays at Harper’s Restaurant & Brew Pub, a popular college bar. They didn’t wear masks, she said, because the bar did not require them.
“I’ve been cooped up so long, it was finally a chance to go out with some friends. It was obviously appealing,” Ligon said. “I haven’t known anybody to have gotten sick.”
Now, 88 cases of COVID-19 have been traced back to that one bar. Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail told BuzzFeed News on Monday she expects that number to rise.
“I doubt we went from 51 cases on Thursday, 76 Friday [morning], 85 by the end of the day,” said Vail, “to only 3 more over the weekend.”
The age range of those infected at Harper’s skews young, between 16 and 28, like its crowd. The average age is 21. At least 25 of them are Michigan State University students.
Now, the Ingham County Health Department is asking everyone who visited the bar between June 12 and its reclosing on June 20 to self-quarantine for two weeks.
Ligon and her friends went on June 15. So far, none of them have had any symptoms. Her parents have taken her temperature daily. She said she’d get a test but doesn’t know where it’s available, and none of her friends have gotten a test.
She’s been a little nervous about getting sick, particularly after reading the media reports about Harper’s and learning of two other people she knows who have tested positive for COVID-19.
“I think I made the choice to go, so if I were to get it, that would be on me,” Ligon said. “I chose to go out and not wear a mask and go to a place where I do run the risk of catching it.”
But Vail said the pressure should be on businesses to implement rules and demand customers follow them. She said she visited one casino restaurant that checked people’s temperatures, had tables clearly 6 feet apart, and had all customers in masks until they were sitting down ready to eat.
“More and more businesses that definitely don’t want to close again need to understand that they are our biggest enforcement army right now,” Vail said. “Their ability to stay open lies in their own hands.”
Harper’s did abide by the government’s social distancing guidelines, which include limiting bar capacity to 50%. (Vail said she understands that Harper’s actually limited guests to 225 when technically it could have allowed 250 in.)
“Normally it’s, like, insanely packed there,” Ligon said. “It was honestly very empty when I went.”
Part of the problem, explained Vail, is that not all bars and restaurants are the same.