Coronavirus doesn’t kill the party in Michigan. And that has many worried.

SLIDESHOW: Michigan State University’s decision to cancel in-person classes in the wake of the coronavirus led to a rush to the bars over the weekend, prompting concern from university leaders and a warning from state officials about bars that violate Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s recent ban on gatherings of more than 250 people. (Photo courtesy of  Matt Schmucker/The State News)

A line outside Harper’s, a bar in East Lansing, stretched nearly a block on Wednesday after Michigan State University announced the cancelation of in-person classes due to the coronavirus. (Photo courtesy of  Matt Schmucker/The State News)

University of Michigan seniors, just a day after the school closed for the semester last week, enjoyed a night out on a pub crawl, complete with shirts made for the occasion. Note the hand sanitizer around the wrist. (Photo courtesy of Gregg Burch)

In Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, St. Patrick’s Day parties went on as scheduled at several bars, even though the city’s parade that day was canceled. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)

More than 50 people stood in line waiting to get into Harper’s in East Lansing on Saturday night, despite warnings from university officials to reduce interactions. (Bridge photo by Riley Beggin)

The Irish bands played on in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood during St. Patrick’s Day celebrations on Sunday. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)

A patron at a bar in Detroit wears a woman’s thong as a medical mask during St. Patrick’s Day celebrations on Sunday. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)

Michigan Health Watch is made possible by generous financial support from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, the Michigan Association of Health Plans, and the Michigan Health and Hospital Association. The monthly mental health special report is made possible by generous financial support of the Ethel & James Flinn Foundation. Please visit the Michigan Health Watch 'About' page for more information.

EAST LANSING — Work from home. Minimize social gatherings. Stay at least six feet away from others in public. 

Michigan knows the warnings well, as the highly contagious coronavirus is moving through the state and nation, prompting an avalanche of closures in hopes of halting its spread.

What better time to party, ask some from East Lansing to Detroit.

“I’ve never waited in lines this long,” Natalia Asimakis, 23, a Michigan State University student said on Saturday as she stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a line of at least 50 to get into Harper’s bar steps from campus. 

College students weren’t the only ones flouting officials’ warnings to avoid large gatherings. Across the state, revelers celebrating St. Patrick’s Day early filed into bars — and even those complying with the 250-person limit set this week by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer often made for close quarters, depending on the size of the venue. 

In Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood Sunday, bars overflowed with partygoers including nurse Michelle Priebe, 41. 

“What’s going to happen is going to happen,” Priebe said of the virus. “I’m washing my hands, I’m not touching my face, I’m drinking my whiskey and life is good.”

The attitudes are prompting a debate about whether limits are enough to halt the spread of coronavirus. Italy, which had as many coronavirus cases as Michigan a few weeks ago, is now under complete lockdown after warnings about social distancing were largely ignored.


Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Sunday said she's seen online images of "people cramming into facilities" that are "incredibly disturbing." She said she's in touch with fellow governors and may announce "next steps in the very near future." 

Her remarks came hours after Attorney General Dana Nessel and others warned Michigan will increase enforcement about crowd limits, while other public health officials begged partiers to be smart.

“Individuals may believe they are young and do not have compromised immune systems and therefore they are not at high risk of getting ill. That is true — young, healthy people are not at high risk of getting coronavirus,” said Robert Gordon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. 

“But they can become carriers. If they go to a bar or they go to a restaurant or they go to any room, frankly, and stand close to people who are carriers, they can become carriers themselves. Then they can go home and see a parent or a grandparent who is high-risk and transmit coronavirus to them.”

This weekend, Oakland County in suburban Detroit, Kent County, home to Grand Rapids, and Ingham County, home to MSU, issued health orders cutting in half occupancy limits of bars and restaurants. Orders in Kent and Oakland counties also extend to gyms.

The orders came because, in many cases, the 250-person limit makes little sense for smaller spaces, said Linda Vail, health officer of Ingham County.

“Safety is not a one size fits all number,” Vail said.


Some health officials question whether even those rules are enough. On Sunday, Ohio and Illinois ordered the temporary closures of bars and restaurants, while Massachusetts ordered restaurants to be takeout-only starting Tuesday.

"If we’re serious about #socialdistancing: Local officials should ban ALL eat-in options at restaurants, eateries, and bars," Abdul El-Sayed, Detroit's former health director and a 2018 gubernatorial candidate, wrote on Twitter.

"All orders for food requiring preparation should be placed by phone or online and there should be no waiting allowed inside."

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the Flint doctor who helped expose the Flint water crisis, agreed, writing on Twitter, "this is not an extension of spring break. Young people are vectors. Time to close bars, restaurants, malls, movies, etc."

A complete shutdown would “cripple the entire industry,” countered Scott Ellis, executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, which represents bars.

His group supports the 250-person limit, as does the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, said its president Justin Winslow.

“This is a once in a multi-generational pandemic,” Winslow said.

No bars or restaurants have been given citations yet for violating the 250-person limit. But Nessel warned that violators could face misdemeanors or even liquor license revocations.

“Bars and restaurants have to appreciate that it’s much better for them to obey the order as it is now and stay open,” Nessel said, adding the state is attempting to keep the economy going while protecting public safety. 

If people don’t abide by the rule, the state may have to take more stringent measures to prevent further spread of the virus, Nessel said, including a curfew or complete shutdown of bars and restaurants.

Bar owners said they are taking the order seriously.

Harper’s, the bar where Asimakis and crowds of other students went in East Lansing, limited the number of people in the bar to fewer than 250 in case police stopped by, said manager Dante Brey. 

The spread of coronavirus in a crowded room “definitely is a concern,” Brey said. 

“We just try to be cautious and take whatever measures we need to. We have our employees wearing gloves,” he said.

Stephen Gasteyer has a different take. The MSU sociology professor was walking his dogs this weekend and snapped a photo inside another bar in East Lansing, The Riv, and posted it to his Facebook page.

“If what we’re trying to do is contain contagion, we can’t have hundreds of students pouring into bars, drinking, losing inhibitions and exchanging fluids as they’re doing this,” he told Bridge.

“This isn’t the way to contain a virus.”

Other bars are using the virus as a promotional tool. Detroit restaurant Cork & Gabel posted on Facebook Friday night: “COVID-19? We have the cure (well not FDA approved… yet) but we have our special cocktail for the weekend.”

Whitmer said state gaming officials also are working on plans to temporarily close casinos, which continued to operate over the weekend.  The facilities added precautions like sanitizing highly trafficked areas and separating tables and slot machines, while MotorCity Casino  announced it is complying with the 250-person limit by “constructing temporary walls to section off various areas of the casino floor” to keep crowds under the 250-person limit. 

Bridge reporter Jonathan Oosting contributed to this report.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Barry Visel
Sun, 03/15/2020 - 6:35pm

Just a saw the Gov press conference. She didn’t stay 6 feet away fro others on the podium. Wtf

Sun, 03/15/2020 - 8:35pm

Good luck to all of you who decided to ignore the recommendations—you’re going to find out pretty quickly the full ramifications of your decisions, and you will regret every one of them.

Mon, 03/16/2020 - 1:45pm

Okay drama queen. The symptoms are very mild. You have a better chance of getting in a car crash today.

Kevin Grand
Mon, 03/16/2020 - 5:09pm

I'll tell you what; you can come back here in about 4-6 weeks after this blows over and look at the end results. Posters cannot change anything they post, so that'll make following up incredibly easy.

People will realize that this was all overblown hype, that the rationale behind the precautions overstated to simply scare people and any credibility the state goverment/local media ever had ln this subject long since evaporated.

Not a good place to be when a legitimate crisis actually arises.

John Chastain
Tue, 03/17/2020 - 2:10pm

Your right Kevin in about 4 to 6 weeks we will understand the ramifications of the ignorance being spread by Trump & his reactionary conservative allies. Wait we already are, well that's okay its only "old" people and "others" that are expendable so its all good. The only "legitimate" crisis is the phony immigration one and all those undeserving "minorities" taking advantage of the system to rip off the good people like you. There's a credibility problem and its face is Trump surrounded by sycophants and a few well placed experts crossing their fingers and hoping everything doesn't fail & its not to late, like in Italy.

Kevin Grand
Tue, 03/17/2020 - 2:51pm

I'm sorry, Mr. Chastain, but wasn't it our own governor who is literally shutting down our entire state to appease the chicken little-crowd over a bug that shows only mild to moderate respiratory symptoms, if any at all, to the OVERWHELMING majority of those coming into contact with it?

At least Pres. Trump isn't trying to tank the nation's economy by crying "wolf" at every available opportunity.

But since you feel so strongly about it, please tell everyone exactly how YOU would pay for all of the damage done to Michigan Businesses caused by all of this Corona paranoia (provided that they're still open when these EO's are lifted)?

How would YOU pay for the spike in unemployment benefits, which was brought about solely due to the overreaction of Gov. Whitmer?

Oh, and while you're at it, which do you intend on cutting first in the state budget: "Fixing the damn roads", schools, or medicaid?

There won't be enough money in the state budget for all of them.

Allan Blackburn
Tue, 03/17/2020 - 3:44pm

Good one. Kevin has been on Bridge for years spreading his drivel. You'd think by the way he writes and as often as he writes that he is the only one in Michigan who ever paid taxes and only he should determine how they are spent. Thank God he isn't in charge of anything but his own anger and intolerance.

Kevin Grand
Wed, 03/18/2020 - 7:07am

Hmmmm, I'm flattered, Mr,. Blackburn?!?

When you cannot address the message, then attack the messenger.

Going back to the basics from people with your disposition of thinking have never worked on me before, so why should it work now?

That out of the way, let me pose the very same question to you that I've posed to Mr. Chastain above: How do you intend to pay for all of the damage caused to Michigan by the governors edicts?

She cannot just print/borrow the money to pay for that. State government doesn't work that way.

Will you whip out your wallet/checkbook and just freely hand over to Lansing everything that YOU have to pay for these ill-conceived EO's ?

Or, are you just overly generous with other people's money?

Wed, 03/18/2020 - 11:57am

Totally agree Allan. Kevin is another one of those who supports the current administration blindly. As a nurse who has had to respond in "crisis situations" there are always "Kevins" who think they know best when in reality they are in denial. Six weeks will tell a big story. According to all projections the United States is on track to gone beyond what has happened in Italy. Americans need to start to get used to the fact that 45 is there to dismantle the old system to make way for the new, and our younger generation will be the ones to lead us forward.

Joe Cooper
Sun, 09/20/2020 - 6:07pm

Both of you losers need to get a life if you've been on this stupid website for years spreading your respective drivels, lololol!

Joe Cooper
Sun, 09/20/2020 - 6:09pm

Both of you losers need to get a life if you've been on this stupid website for years spreading your respective drivels, lololol!

John Q. Public
Thu, 03/19/2020 - 10:07am

Well, Kevin, you and I have not agreed on much over the years, but I've never thought that made me correct and you incorrect. I've found that our disagreements on policy are nearly always traceable to a difference in values; that is, what we want is different, so it really makes a great deal of sense that the policies we support will be different, too. When people criticize others for "voting against their own interests" I find what they usually mean is that others vote against THEIR interests. They practically never allow for the fact that others just aren't interested in the same things they are--at least not to the same degrees. This thread is demonstrative of that--it appears to be an economics vs. health/safety value debate. That doesn't make you wrong for valuing one over the other any more than those opposing you are wrong for valuing what they do.

I think in this instance you might not beconsidering something, though. When we see the end result in six weeks is not one of catastrophe (other than economic), isn't it entirely possible that that outcome came about precisely because of the draconian steps governments took? The country and world will have to weigh whether it was worth it after it's over, because the thing is, everybody dies. We can't save lives; we can only postpone deaths a few years. The price of postponing the deaths of (probably) tens of thousands based on the science presented (some choose not to believe it, but I can't change that) is economic hardship, and in many cases calamity, for tens of millions. Will it have been "worth it"? That's a value judgment. Whatever side you fall on, you aren't objectively wrong.

Barry Visel
Sun, 03/15/2020 - 9:17pm

Please report on the constitutional authority the Feds or the state have to preempt our liberty. Thanks

Barry Visel
Sun, 03/15/2020 - 9:17pm

Please report on the constitutional authority the Feds or the state have to preempt our liberty. Thanks

Sun, 03/22/2020 - 5:27am

NH had a lawsuit over that very thing. That is, the 1st Amendment right to Assembly. Unfortunately an SJW in a robe ( a man who has decided against the 2nd Amendment, and also forced an octogenarian MD to give up her medical license because she didn't use a computer for her patients' medical records) decided against the plaintiffs. Whitmer however, has all but shut down the entire state, much worse than what's happened in NH. I hope when they can't pay their bills, buy food, or pay for any essentials, my Progressive friends will remember it was the Governor who forced them off of their jobs and not the President...

Kevin Grand
Mon, 03/16/2020 - 6:46am

Since the news media's goal is now apparently keeping its audience scared and helpless with foreboding headlines, its encouraging to see that others aren't buying into the expanding hype and fear.

From their mixed messaging (Mr. Visel's observation above is an excellent example), lack of consistency (doesn't anyone recall anything close to this occurring from the government/media during the Swine Flu), to their hell-bent desire to tank the economy (what better method to engender government dependency), the people promoting this propaganda aren't going to like it when the dust settles in the end.

Lost wages + lost productivity = Lost tax revenue = Politicians struggling how to make their budgets work.

I'd don't see that last one going very well.

And if people are so naive to think that won't negatively affect Michigan Family Budgets...just wait.

They won't be blaming the Communists running China for that.

Mon, 03/16/2020 - 10:26am

So the nurse quoted here is deliberately exposing herself, her coworkers (at a time when we desperately need health professionals) and every patient she comes in contact with this week, some of whom will be extremely vulnerable. She should lose her job.

Agnosticrat 2.0
Mon, 03/16/2020 - 10:28am

Thankful that Michelle Priebe is not my nurse.

Mon, 03/16/2020 - 1:45pm

Way over hyped.

Bob Shishka
Mon, 03/16/2020 - 4:17pm

Here's a thought.....Since Corona is more or less a souped up flu bug ( people die every year from the seasonal flu, but up until this moment no one seemed too concerned about it) why don't we make this a yearly thing? Shut down life in America as we know it every year? Do people not die every year from the flu du jour? Usually elderlies & children because of weekend immune systems. Right? Here's the rub for me. This whole incident began on the television which is owned by 6 massive corporations & now has spread like wildfire throughout the land. Everything you see, read & hear is owned by these 6 corporations. ( Irrefutable fact btw ) I have zero faith in the media to tell the truth about ANYTHING. Time and time again they have proven themselves to be less than honest. They will spin, tell half truths, omit & create subterfuge anywhere they deem necessary depending on WHO'S paying them at the moment. This is why I get my news from alternative sources. Mainstream media is purely an avenue for drama & entertainment . I rarely view Bridge articles for the same reason. They spin in here too. No offense Bridge, you're not alone.. real journalism died a long time ago. No, this feels much more like a "test" to me. Like a "trial run" to see how well behaved the electorate can be when given authoritative directives. Our country is awash with Fear right now. It's palpable. I am feeling less "free" in the land of the free & home of the brave with each passing day of this manufactured crisis ( my opinion) THIS is what has me concerned. The widespread panic which is being fueled by the mainstream media. Walking around full of fear 24/7 also works to break down the immune system's ability to do its job. Just saying. This brings to mind a very famous statement delivered to the nation, a long time ago by a pretty popular president. He said, " We have nothing to fear......but FEAR itself"! I think his initials were JFK? What do you think he meant by that? Something we all have to deal with as human beings & Americans is the fact that we cannot escape two things in this life. Two things that unite us. We are ALL OF US going to die at some point in time, no escaping one gets out alive & we are ALL of us are going to pay taxes while we're here.....some of us more than others ( wink-wink) so you'll have to excuse me if I'm hesitant to take a seat at this all you can eat fear buffet being prepared for us by the media & untrustworthy politicians. Sorry but I don't vote out of fear & I refuse to live a fearful life... for any decision based on "fear" is the incorrect choice. Now...after saying all assured I will do whatever the "experts" (joke) demand that we do. After all, I am a law abiding citizen of this once great nation. But that doesn't mean I have to like it....agree with it...or believe it. Flu bugs don't scare me...a nation full of fearful people does. For fearful people can do some BAD things if given the correct circumstances. Fear can drive a person insane. Well, enjoy the Pandemic Parade!!! Cheers!! Happy St. Patty's too!! Is it still legal to drink green beer in America or is this the next sacrifice to be asked of a good citizen? I feel so sorry for all those small business owners who rely on that sweet St. Patty's day cash. That's their Super Bowl. Their Easter Sunday. It's sacrosanct. It makes me wonder how did we ever survive as a nation, with all those previous decades of flu bug seasons killing indiscriminately while we went about our business? How'd we do it? I recall. We weren't told by the media to be AFRAID!!

Tue, 03/17/2020 - 9:08am

I was in China during the outbreak, which rapidly spread while I was there, but it was also during the most traveled time of year there since it was Chinese New Year. I don't see any article telling people to be scared, just to be cautious and mindful of others who are susceptible. People themselves are making themselves scared and overreacting to these articles they are reading (in my opinion-but I honestly don't see anyone being scared). It got to the point of having to close things down because of the people not following these recommendations and guidelines that were put in place. It is selfish, disrespectful Americans who are very inconsiderate of the people who are at risk and the medical workers who will have to deal with the influx and possible overcrowding of patients in the hospitals. The issue is also that the flu season is here, so people who have the flu may also need medical attention, as well as people who get in car accidents, have strokes, or any other serious injury that may become harder to treat if the hospitals are overwhelmed due to the influx of people with Cov2019. The U.S should have done isolation measures like other countries have, but they reacted way to slow and now it is spreading where. I was able to fly back into the US (had to purchase a new flight) and when I told them I was in China, they didn't care, just let me go and did not even tell me to quarantine myself (which I did because that was the right thing to do). Two people I know just came back from Italy last week and the US never asked them to self-quarantine or question them about the exact cities they were in or take their temperatures or anything, even though they claimed to be doing these things, and now it got to this point. In S. Korea people aren't on lockdown, they are running lots of tests and sending out alert notifications of locations where someone with an infected case has been, and people are going about their daily business but are taking precautions. The US is barely testing anyone and we had all this time to prepare for this and get tests, but everyone reacted too slow and it came to this. Again, I don't see them spreading fear, just awareness and no one I see is scared or panicking for their life, they are just taking extra precautions.

Allan Blackburn
Tue, 03/17/2020 - 3:55pm

I have read a lot of lame comments here from selfish people who think only their rights matter. I am going to leave you with a rational argument about why you need to read and heed what is being don in Michigan and nationwide. It is a 300 year old book written by Daniel Defoe’s, A Journal of the Plague Year, published in 1722. It is an epidemiologist in Bluffton, Ohio who models exactly why the response is needed NOW and should have taken place a couple of months ago when our fake president was still claiming that this virus was a hoax brought on by Democrats to bring him down. I hope I can get by with posting a valuable link to this Vimeo production on the necessity of what we will all need to go through to get through this together.

If you still want to go out and take your chances, might I suggest you get new jobs which will become available soon. Those are the ones discussed in Defoe's book of the cart bearers; yelling out; "Bring out your dead" on a daily basis as this disease overwhelms our communities, our hospitals and we become like Italy is today.

Kevin Grand
Wed, 03/18/2020 - 9:40am

"It is an epidemiologist in Bluffton, Ohio who models exactly why the response is needed NOW and should have taken place a couple of months ago when our fake president was still claiming that this virus was a hoax brought on by Democrats to bring him down."

And your source for this alleged hoax quote from Pres. Trump?

Wed, 03/18/2020 - 12:05am

Does such an attitude have anything to do with the level of education there ...

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Wed, 03/18/2020 - 8:33am

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Wed, 03/18/2020 - 10:07pm

Kevin Brand is an idiot who doesn't have a job. Talking about state assistance? This guy is a moron.

David Smith
Wed, 03/25/2020 - 7:52am

who now clown., you people are a menace., anti fact Fox new mouth breathing troglodyte, fun fact, Michigan has no caves, head south you should be with your people in the time of danger.

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Fri, 08/14/2020 - 10:47am

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