Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Ingham County relaxes restaurant restrictions as COVID-19 case numbers trend downward

July 16, 2020
A sign showing that businesses are open depsite recent COVID-19 outbreaks in downtown East Lansing is pictured June 30, 2020.
A sign showing that businesses are open depsite recent COVID-19 outbreaks in downtown East Lansing is pictured June 30, 2020. —
Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

After nearing the completion of two full, 14 day, incubation and quarantine periods since the COVID-19 outbreak at Harper's Brewpub and Restaurant between June 12 and 20, the Ingham County Health Department has relaxed their original localized directive limiting restaurant capacity.

According to Amanda Darche, public information officer at the ICHD, the new order still indicates a 50% maximum cap on patrons, but that now no more than 125 patrons are allowed on the premises at once, rather than the previous 75.

Again, the rule requests that owners and staff abide by whichever number is less. There are no exceptions.

The order is targeted toward large licensed food service establishments with capacities of more than 250.

“Since I issued the original emergency order, cases have trended downward,” Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said in a release. “We’ve had time now for restaurant inspectors to work with our large capacity establishments, and these establishments have had time to adjust. New executive orders with more restaurant safeguards have also been issued."

"I hope we can loosen capacity restrictions again in the coming weeks, but we could tighten them once again if cases increase," she said.

Michigan law grants Vail with the authority to issue orders to protect public health, the release said. Those who disregard the order could be subject to a misdemeanor that includes up to 90 days in jail or a fine of up to $200.

The order went into effect July 15 and will continue through 11:59 p.m. Aug. 1.

Vail said the COVID-19 outbreak at Harper's is beginning to hit a plateau, and the health department is ready to close it out nearly one month since that final exposure date of June 20.

She said that while it certainly hasn't come to a halt, it is no longer the forefront of concern. The case count includes 143 primary cases and 42 secondary cases for a total of 185.

There have since been several other COVID-19 outbreaks within the population. Vail counted 10 cases from Ingham County Jail and 21 cases spread out among Ingham (14), Clinton (5) and Eaton (2) counties from Riverfront Animal Hospital.

There is also three cases spread out among Clinton (1), Ingham (1) and Isabella (1) counties from a Sprint store on East Edgewood Boulevard. "Because of the size of the store and the number of employees, it does get considered an outbreak," Vail said.

Potential COVID-19 exposure on a handful of CATA bus routes occurred last week as well, though Vail considers it a minimal, low-risk threat because all of the individuals aboard were wearing masks, obeying social distancing guidelines and the buses went through appropriate disinfection procedures both before and after.

Vail said the health department has not received word of a community case regarding the CATA exposure.

Most recently, there was an employee who tested positive at HopCat bar and restaurant, as announced in a Facebook post Monday night. Vail said that while the employee was not there for a prolonged period of time, the establishment is required to close its doors and conduct a deep clean.

Contact tracing is ongoing — the Facebook post mentioned the exposure occurred while the individual was off the job.

"There is no reason to believe it's a broad public exposure, as this happened at other restaurants," Vail said. "It was a very minor incidental situation. Lots of mask wearing going on (and) the particular person that was there that turned out to be COVID positive was not broadly in the facility and only talked to a couple people while there."

It’s in the health department's interest to notify and inform Ingham County residents of all public COVID-19 exposures so that any individuals involved can properly monitor themselves for symptoms, seek testing and isolate if necessary.

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