Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer closes most bars as coronavirus cases spike

Michigan is closing most bars' indoor service because of a spike in coronavirus cases. Other states are taking more extreme measures.

Indoor service at bars in most of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula must close starting at 11 p.m. Wednesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced just hours before the deadline. 

Whitmer’s latest emergency order comes as the rate of new coronavirus cases increases across the state, significantly spiking in areas like Lansing, Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.

After the economy began reopening, cases have increased to a seven-day average this week of 311 following steady declines.

“Following recent outbreaks tied to bars, I am taking this action today to slow the spread of the virus and keep people safe,” Whitmer said in a statement. “If we want to be in a strong position to reopen schools for in-person classroom instruction this fall, then we need to take aggressive action right now to ensure we don’t wipe out all the progress we have made.” 

Whitmer signed the order shortly after she had signed a series of bills that would allow bars and restaurants to sell cocktails to-go and to allow local governments to designate social districts where people could drink outside. 

Bars are allowed to continue outdoor service, but must require people to wear masks until they’re seated and can only serve people at tables rather than at a bar top. All “common areas” used for dancing or other mingling must close. Bars that are open for outdoor service can allow customers to go inside to use the bathroom.

Restaurants that make more than 70 percent of their earnings through alcohol sales — traditional bars, nightclubs and strip clubs included — are required to cease indoor sales under the order. 

Most breweries, distilleries and vineyards will likely be able to stay open for indoor service under these rules, Whitmer said. 

The order does not apply to Regions 6 and 8 of the economic reopening plan, which includes the entire Upper Peninsula and most counties in northern Michigan. 

Justin Winslow, CEO of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, said in a statement that the order is “largely a stay of execution for the restaurant industry,” given the more stringent measures put in place in other states. The state’s $19 billion restaurant industry lost an estimated lost $1 billion in sales in April, and at least half of its workforce is unemployed.

Florida, Texas, Arizona and Colorado closed bars in the past week. Some governors are looking at regional closures, such as a bar closure in Los Angeles County, Miami’s ban on late-night dining and tightened capacity restrictions on bars, restaurants and public gatherings in Madison, Wisconsin. 

“We operate in uncertain times, with almost inconceivable challenges that shift by the day and so it is important to remember that the vast majority of operators are honest brokers doing the very best they can to keep people safe, happy and nourished,” Winslow said.

Over the past week, every region in Michigan has seen an uptick in new cases, according to the state, with daily case counts now exceeding 20 cases per million in the Grand Rapids, Lansing and Kalamazoo regions.  

Many cases are younger people,  which also is the population in Michigan with the fastest growing number of coronavirus cases. 

Among the state’s cases since June 5, 31 percent are under age 29. Before June 5, that age group accounted for 16 percent of cases.

Indoor bars are often crowded, poorly ventilated and encourage mingling, which can make it easier for coronavirus to spread between people, Whitmer’s office said in the statement announcing the order. 

They also are often noisy, which can cause people to speak louder and project droplets, and alcohol lowers inhibitions and compliance with rules.

The move comes after  100-plus cases of COVID-19 were tracked to an East Lansing bar in late June. The outbreak at Harper’s Restaurant and Brewpub continues to be tracked by the Ingham County Health Department, officials said, which traced the spread to at least 13 counties. Not counted in that tally is a second outbreak tied to the bar that is spreading in Wayne County after a Grosse Pointe-area house party. 

Whitmer’s closure of bars marks the first reversal of a loosened restriction — a practice Whitmer has long pledged could happen if there’s a resurgence in cases. 

Cases are increasing across the state of bars announcing that they’ll close because a worker has the virus: The BOB in Grand Rapids, Hopcat in Kalamazoo, Fifth Avenue in Royal Oak and Lansing Brewery are among them.

The bar closure amid concerns about COVID-19 outbreaks follows waves of conflict about mask-wearing in both bars and restaurants.

Scott Ellis, executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, said customer rudeness is a top concern among his members. 

At the center of that hostility is masks. “We just need the public to help us out,” he told Bridge this week.  “We understand that some people can’t wear masks … but it’s become political, and we wish it hadn’t.”

Mexican Fiesta in Dearborn Heights closed its dining room this week after staff was “disrespected and treated rudely,” according to its Facebook post, as some customers refused to wear a mask - and were not allowed to enter the restaurant.

“This has been a tough situation for all of us,” owner Sam Alvarado told Bridge. “We’re working really hard to provide quality food and service, but we’ve got to do it in a safe way.”

Halo Burger in Flint had a similar experience, said Olivia Ross, director of marketing. The seven-restaurant chain also closed its dining rooms this week.

Customers not wearing masks were a problem. One took a mask off and leaned around a Plexiglass barrier to order. Disregard for other social distancing measures left staff feeling vulnerable, and managers also had to consider the effect on patrons.

“People were still blatantly sitting on tables that said, ‘Don’t sit here,’” Ross said. “People just don’t want to follow that direction.”

Meanwhile, some service workers wanted the bar shutdown and hope that sit-down service in restaurants will be next. They said they didn’t feel safe at work. 

“I have no doubts we will be shutting down again,” said Gabi Bussell, founder of Service Industry Workers of the Ann Arbor Area, on Tuesday. “It’s going to be a matter of whether those in power do that now or later.”

Bussell, who worked at Arbor Brewing Company until it closed this spring,  started the Service Industry Workers group on Facebook on March 15 as she and others employed in bars and restaurants in the Ann Arbor area.

Since then, the group has provided a forum for them to discuss work situations, including risks they face on the job.

“A lot are following safety protocols,” Bussell said of establishments. “The big issue has been customers.

“The problem is, the majority of people who are out and about right now are comfortable doing so because they don’t view the virus as a serious threat.”

On June 5, as Whitmer announced that Michigan bars and restaurants could reopen at 50 percent capacity, Bussell launched a petition asking that they remain closed to dine-in service. 

“We believe that reopening now is way too soon,” it said. The reasons include the health risks facing a group of workers who often do not have health insurance.

“(B)ars and restaurants are regarded by infectious disease experts as high-risk establishments during the pandemic for the following reasons: 1) Customers will not be able to wear masks while eating or drinking, 2) Those under the influence of alcohol are less likely to follow proper guidelines, and 3) Bar culture promotes crowding and mingling amongst customers,” according to the petition, which was signed by 1,300 people and submitted to Washtenaw County and state officials.

Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, served on the governor’s reopening task force. She said she learned how many of the state’s bars and restaurants are small, family owned businesses with limited cash flow. 

“Coming out of the shutdown, they’re looking at 12-18 months [with reduced revenue,]” she said. “They say they can’t survive a second shutdown. They just can’t.”

While she describes Harper’s as “an extreme case,” she’s also watching the emerging news of three infections among customers at Fifth Avenue in Royal Oak.

“How do we get the message out that we flattened the curve, but we didn’t get rid of COVID?” she said. 

McMorrow said she spent Tuesday talking to leaders in Oakland County communities. The lack of masks was a concern; so was enforcement. Capacity limits can be enforced by police, she said, but social distancing won’t be. 

She encouraged the state to avoid a blanket shutdown. 

Speaking to Bridge earlier this week, Winslow of the restaurant trade group said the industry needs “good actors” to enforce social distancing and masks.

“The alternate reality is much worse for them if they’re not insisting on mask wearing,” he said.

Whitmer made a similar point.

“If we open up our economy too quickly, the efforts of the last three months will be for nothing and we will have to go through this pain all over again and put our economy, health and medical system at risk. Nobody wants to move backward,” she said.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Robert Honeyman
Wed, 07/01/2020 - 8:38pm

Good for Governor Whitmer. Having gone through several stages of partial reopenings, it has been incumbent on our government to continuously pause and evaluate. With the number of new cases climbing back to levels in the second half of May, it's clear measured action is required. Since there is a two-to-four week lag between action and results, it will take time to assess if this action is sufficient.

As for the restaurant industry lobbyists, the goal is not to kill the economy; rather, it's to avoid again overwhelming the fragile healthcare system. Anyone who thinks we're anywhere close to being past covid19 is sadly mistaken. The governor's goal is to manage a bad situation, trying to limit the number of deaths resulting from a lethal virus.

Sat, 07/04/2020 - 9:59am


You need to start looking at facts - I don't know where you get your information but it's absolutely not based in reality. Hospitals have not been overwhelmed - In fact, they haven't even reached the levels of saturation they reach at the peak of the flu season. Remember all those triage centers that they spent tens of millions of dollars to retrofit for patient overflows? The one in Novi shut down after a couple months as it got only THIRTY NINE patients.

You are way off here, and I can't help but think that maybe you are just trolling - If that is so, I regret responding.

Sun, 07/05/2020 - 9:52am

Jefferson, you are correct for the most part. Cases in Oceana have tripled since June 18. The Bridge reported this due to migrant workers. CNN reported a bar in Kent had an outbreak June 17. Cases have gone up slightly since then there. Hospitals are in good shape, ED discharges are up 30% in the Kent area, which is what you would expect from more testing and cases. Statewide deaths have been in single digits. This is not a reason for drastic action IMHO. But we have elected what we have. I’m looking for an article expressing reaction to this from State Senators opposing this, but not holding my breath.

K john b
Wed, 07/01/2020 - 10:28pm

It is unreal how sensitive we can be about face mask. After all, we are a nation of laws that will not think twice about >850,000 abortions per year, but we won't tolerate somone invading our personal space or POSSIBLY threatening our health.

Thu, 07/02/2020 - 11:56am

or slaughtering millions of Vietnamese woman and children.

Agnosticrat 2.0
Thu, 07/02/2020 - 12:43pm

Please maintain a 6 foot distance and wear a mask.

Sun, 07/05/2020 - 10:39am

VERY few restaurants and bars are following the guidelines,,and the customers are not either! I will no longer eat out at restaurants from what I have seen,,for a very long time,,way too many foolish people and jokers in managment! :( Bars??,,Never! Disgusted.

Michael Gaudio
Thu, 07/02/2020 - 12:26am

Vary convenient for the governor to close bars but leave enough of the state open for her own benefit. Meaning the Traverse City area. And you want people to be civil with what’s she’s doing to this state.

middle of the mit
Fri, 07/03/2020 - 8:09pm

She opens the area up like republicans want and she is blamed for being selfish. Is there anything she can do that won't tick conservatives off?

Danny Boyd
Sat, 07/04/2020 - 10:00pm

Yeah! It’s too bad she’s not like the Florida Governor who just said “let’s let everyone get sick!” Because that’s really turning out well for them. M’urica!

None ya
Thu, 07/02/2020 - 5:39am

They say it's not political but it is, Michigan governor will never be re-elected by anyone who voted for her, and I certainly was not one of them. She needs to find a better line of work, maybe a blue collar job and join in and see what it's like not having everything handed to her and actually do something for her pay check!!!

Agnosticrat 2.0
Thu, 07/02/2020 - 12:42pm

She keep doing better and better.
She is a powerhouse!

O.G. Wayne
Sun, 07/05/2020 - 8:44am


Danny Boyd
Thu, 07/02/2020 - 7:51pm

Voted for her before, and if she continues to show leadership like she has the past few months I'll gladly vote for her again. Hell, even Texas has gone more "draconian" than she has. Totally my governor!

Marlene Augst
Thu, 07/02/2020 - 6:29am

All models going out 12 months shows the same number of people dead regardless of closing the State or not. The facts are for many Americans in piss poor health before this virus are the ones at risk, for the rest it's not much more than a cold. Th asymptomatic rate exceeds 80%. So for those people who didn't care about their health and lifestyle choices before the virus, why should people care about their health now?

Thu, 07/02/2020 - 3:13pm

Article title is disingenuous at best and outright false at worst.

From your own coronavirus dashboard the percentage of positive tests has remained consistent while the number of tests performed each day has gone up. Additionally in no way are the numbers representative of a spike in numbers. An increase yes, but a spike? No.

If you are non-partisan, as you claim, then do better work and stop framing articles.

Sun, 07/05/2020 - 12:36am

Look at the Mackinaw Bridge Camera tapes starting June 2, at around 3:30. Bumper to bumper jammed packed. She closed the bars down there and they all came to the U.P. where we used to have only 3 cases reported. Yea, check our numbers in 14 days and see what she's done to us. We have 3 hospitals in our radius and none of them can handle what is about to happen up here! Pray for us.

middle of the mit
Fri, 07/10/2020 - 8:52pm


Blame the Governor for doing what you and your State reps wanted, opening up areas that had less infections. What did the Republicans who pushed for this think was going to happen?

Do you wish Governor Gretchen still had a stay at home order? What do you want her to do?

Welcome to Texas!

David A. Carlson
Sun, 07/05/2020 - 7:37am

Just before the 4th of July division point, Gov. Whitmer is giving us the only pathway to keep this under control. Whitmer again "“If we open up our economy too quickly, the efforts of the last three months will be for nothing and we will have to go through this pain all over again and put our economy, health and medical system at risk. Nobody wants to move backward,” she said. Let us keep our neighbors and friends in mind: Masks work quite well combined with social distancing, then expanding tests and tracing help find and stifle the maskless damn fools who are or become Superspreaders.

Michael Houseman
Sun, 07/05/2020 - 9:12am

Just knowing that Covid-19(Wuhan) virus patients were sent into nursing homes where the most vulnerable are tells me that there is no reason to extent the executive orders. After a few days of being open they shut the bars down, but the incubation period is supposed to be two weeks, so this makes no sense whatsoever. The numbers do not support the action.
The Constitution doesn't support the action either. The government wasn't created to keep us safe, it was created to protect our rights. Our governor is ignoring our rights in a show of power and doubling down if we protest it.