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Coronavirus outbreak traced to East Lansing pub after Michigan bars reopen

Eighteen visitors at a popular East Lansing brew pub— all young adults and about half of them Michigan State University students — have tested positive for coronavirus.

The men and women were confirmed infected with the virus after visiting Harper's Restaurant & Brewpub from June 12 to 20, said Ingham County Health Department spokesperson Amanda Darche.

That’s just days after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer allowed bars and restaurants in the southern half of the state to reopen June 8. None of the patrons, ages 19 to 23, was hospitalized.  Three patrons had no symptoms, according to Darche.

Inspectors found Harper’s following appropriate safety procedures about employees, restaurant capacity and table spacing. The eatery closed temporarily late Monday to “implement a program to eliminate lines and to modify its HVAC system,” according to the health department.

Whitmer on Twitter linked to a news article about the outbreak and noted “It is on each of us to prevent a second wave. Be smart. Be safe.”

Ingham County reported 50 reported cases in the past 12 days, compared to 23 cases in the 12 days prior.

Harper’s, which patrons packed in the early days of the pandemic in Michigan, didn't immediately respond to Bridge requests for comment.

The outbreak comes as the economy nationally continues to reopen, and national experts warn of an upswing in cases among young people traveling south and ignoring social distancing practices.

 

Previous outbreaks have been among workers whose average age was in the 30s, said Darche of the health department.

And while it’s the elderly and chronically ill that most often suffer the severest symptoms of COVID-19, it’s not unusual for young people to test positive. That means the overall severity and death rate will likely be lower among a younger COVID-positive cohort, health officials say.

Still, they worry that young people become carriers to more vulnerable loved ones, coworkers and others.

“With younger age of recent infections in at least some places such as Florida, expect a lower death rate in this wave ... until the 20-40 year olds who are infected today go on to infect others,” Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tweeted Sunday.

Both Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail and MSU President Samuel Stanley once again urged residents to wear masks and abide by social distancing rules of six feet or more. 

Those steps will not only reduce infections but help “keep businesses open,” Vail said in a prepared statement.

“We need people to treat every person they encounter as a potential carrier,” she said.

The cases traced to Harper’s marked the largest jump in nearly a month in Ingham County, according to the health department. It also underscored the limitations of contact tracing.

Health officials rooted the cases to Harper’s through the Michigan Disease Surveillance System, which collects data on where people moved in the days they may have been infectious.  

But those who were tested and then interviewed didn’t necessarily know who they were mingling with, said Darche, the health department spokesperson.

“They might not know someone they talked with for 10 or 15 minutes, or they might know a first name [only],” she said.

The health department is advising patrons of the establishment June 12-20 to watch for symptoms of respiratory disease, including cough, fever and shortness of breath. The CDC also lists other symptoms, including body aches and fatigue.

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