Harper's owner: We should've kept people at tables

Michigan Liquor Control Commission holds hearing on COVID outbreak

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THURSDAY, July 23 — The co-owner of Harper's in East Lansing said he wished his restaurant had stopped people from getting up from tables and going to common areas in those roughly two weeks in June it was open.

Speaking at a Michigan Liquor Control Commission hearing today about the COVID-19 outbreak tied to the bar, Patrick Riley, publicly addressed the more than 180 cases connected to his East Lansing brewpub. No action was taken today, but the commission could pull the establishment's liquor license.

Riley detailed a number of measures he took to deal with the line of people crammed together waiting outside, as captured by media reports, as well as all the precautions made for reopening the bar back in June.

But asked about the publicized pictures of the crowded inside of the bar once it reopened, Riley said he wished he had required people not to get up from tables and gathering in common places.

He said the restaurant did try to clutter up the dance area with tables, but he said the guidance he went off of to get his restaurant in order didn't cover the idea of preventing people from getting up from their tables besides going to the bathroom or leaving.

Riley also acknowledged to the commission that Harper's had a DJ playing music when it reopened, and he said today he wished they hadn't had a DJ. He pledged that when Harper's reopened, there would be no DJ and that the dance floor would not be open.

The hearing also had a debate about the state's mask-wearing requirement, as to whether masks were required for customers before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's most recent order or if just signage advising customers about masks was required. Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail noted masks have been required in all enclosed public spaces.

The crowded lines outside of the restaurant was the reason Riley said Harper's initially closed June 20 after it had reopened June 8.

Since that time, more than 180 cases have been tied to people who were there or those who interacted with those who were there.

The bar is still closed, and Riley said they won't reopen until a virtual line app is tested and ready to go.

During the hearing today, commission Chairman Pat Gagliardi asked if the Harper's outbreak could be considered a "superspreader" event, to which Vail said yes, but noted it was an event that took place over many days.

Gagliardi said toward the end of the hearing that he hopes Riley doesn't plan to reopen Harper's until a good plan is in place for reopening. Vail said the Ingham County Health Department has requested a reopening plan and an on-site inspection from Harper's.

Since the closure of Harper's, Whitmer has ordered indoor bar service closed and implemented a requirement that businesses refuse service to mask-less patrons.

The MLCC invited Harper's to explain what led to the spread of COVID-19 and what corrective steps will be implemented to ensure the health and safety of its patrons and employees.

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