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Michigan Agency Orders Hearing For Bar Tied To Outbreak

Taylor Haelterman

Michigan liquor regulators on Thursday ordered an East Lansing bar to answer questions about a coronavirus outbreak that infected at least 180 people and was a factor in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s decision to halt indoor service at establishments that chiefly sell alcohol.

A hearing, scheduled for July 23, could result in a license suspension or revocation for Harper’s Restaurant and Brewpub, which currently is closed. But the purpose primarily is fact-finding, said Jeannie Vogel, spokeswoman for the state Liquor Control Commission.

The outbreak occurred last month and attracted widespread attention, shortly after bars and restaurants were allowed to reopen for in-person service following a monthslong shutdown to slow the spread of the disease. The order points to news outlets having shown large crowds inside the bar not adhering to social distancing or wearing masks despite the governor’s order, which allowed customers to remove their face coverings only while seated.

Regulators want Harper’s to “show cause” as to the status of its licenses, answer questions on what steps it took or failed to take to comply with the governor’s measure, and demonstrate that its plan for reopening will protect patrons and employees from another outbreak.

Harper’s ownership could not immediately be reached for comment.

Following the outbreak, which was linked to customers who visited June 12-20, Whitmer issued an order requiring that on-premises establishments outside of northern Michigan close for indoor service if more than 70% of their gross receipts are from alcohol sales. A 50% capacity cap also remains in place.

Ingham County, where Harper’s is located, this week relaxed an order that further limited restaurants’ capacity to no more than 75 people, noting that cases had trended downward.

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