Governor signs order closing indoor service bars throughout Michigan

MLBA says shutdown could mean the end of many bars throughout the state

LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer today signed Executive Order 2020-143 closing indoor service at bars throughout most of lower Michigan to protect the progress Michigan has made against COVID-19.

Regions 6 and 8, which include the Upper Peninsula and much of northern Michigan, are excluded from the order, and bars statewide can continue to serve outdoors.

The governor also signed a package of bills allowing cocktails-to-go at bars and restaurants to help these businesses serve more Michiganders during this time.

“We owe it to our front line heroes who have sacrificed so much during this crisis to do everything we can to slow the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the chance of a resurgence like we are seeing in other states,” said  Whitmer. “Following recent outbreaks tied to bars, I am taking this action today to slow the spread of the virus and keep people safe. 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.”

The Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, in a press release Wednesday, claimed Whitmer’s order will “close many bars forever.”

The executive order calls for the immediate closure of indoor service at bars whose gross receipts total 70 percent or more from alcohol sales in every region except 6 and 8, the press release said.

“The governor has effectively hurt every local small-town bar in the state – establishments that aren’t the bad actors,” said MLBA Executive Director Scott Ellis. “Instead of focusing on problem bars or problem areas, she’s going to kill businesses that are abiding by all of the rules and still struggling to survive. It seems like 70 was chosen as an arbitrary percentage that holds no validity in terms of safety.”

The executive order allows establishments with more than 70 percent of their revenue in alcohol sales to remain open for carry-out service and service in outdoor areas.

“The announcement was not followed by any plan to help these establishments. No further relief, no assistance, no funding, no aid,” Ellis said. “Now, places that required masks, ensured social distancing and invested in remodeling their establishments to be safe for patrons have been altogether cheated.”

Despite the governor stating bars will not have to close down completely, the MLBA believes the majority of the businesses that fall into this category will have no other choice, stating that selling carry-out food and drinks to go is not a viable business model.

“People who were eager to travel and visit their favorite local bars during the Fourth of July holiday just had their plans completely derailed,” said Ellis. “We understand the importance of safety during these unprecedented times, but it now seems that following the rules precisely isn’t enough, but selling food is.”

 

Over the past week, every region in Michigan has seen an uptick in new cases, and daily case counts now exceed 20 cases per million in the Grand Rapids, Lansing and Kalamazoo regions. Nearly 25 percent of diagnoses in June were of people ages 20 to 29, up from roughly 16 percent in May.

That shift aligns with national trends, and the evidence suggests that young people may be driving a new phase of the pandemic.

As bars have reopened for indoor service across the country, some have been linked to a growing number of large outbreaks. In Michigan, for example, health officials in Ingham County have linked 107 confirmed COVID-19 cases to an outbreak in a single bar in East Lansing. Similar super-spreader events have been documented in bars in Florida, Louisiana, Texas and elsewhere.

Bars are often crowded, indoors and poorly ventilated — all of which make it easy to spread COVID-19 from person to person. Bars also encourage mingling among groups and facilitate close contact over an extended period of time. They are noisy, requiring raised voices and allowing for more projection of viral droplets. And they serve alcohol, which reduces inhibitions and decreases compliance with mask use and physical distancing rules.

“I urge all Michiganders to double down on mitigation tactics like wearing masks, practicing physical distancing, and washing hands, so we can get our trajectory headed in the right direction again,” said Governor Whitmer. “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. Everyone, please do your part, and let’s show the nation and the world how smart we are.”

The governor’s order applies to establishments with on-premises retailer liquor licenses that earn more than 70 percent of their gross receipts from alcohol sales. That means that most brewpubs, distilleries, and vineyards can stay open indoors. Traditional bars, nightclubs, and strip clubs will have to end indoor service.

Whitmer today also signed Senate Bill 942 and House Bills 5781 and 5811 into law, which allow bars and restaurants to sell cocktails-to-go and expand social districts to allow for more outdoor seating and areas for people to safely congregate while practicing physical distancing.

Information around this outbreak is changing rapidly. The latest information is available at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.