Harper's Restaurant and Brewpub in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University's campus, has been linked to more than 100 COVID-19 cases.
Most coronavirus cases linked to Harper's are in young people between the ages of 16 and 28, and many cases are in MSU students or recent graduates.
Young people who were at the bar on June 12 and June 13 told Insider that the bar was crowded, and people were mingling and dancing on the dance floor.
A college bar in Michigan has been linked to at least 133 COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks, and customers who were at the establishment as the virus spread say the outbreak could be a "wake-up call" for young people.
Harper's Restaurant and Brewpub in East Lansing, Michigan, has been linked to 114 primary COVID-19 cases and at least 19 secondary contact cases, Ingham County spokesperson Amanda Darche told Insider.
"I think it was a huge wake up call for us that were at Harpers," Blake Cosby, who visited the bar twice in mid-June, told Insider in an Instagram direct message. "We just acted like everything was normal again and didn't take the precautions we should have. Especially with the large rise in cases around the US the last week or so I definitely believe we jumped the gun and reopened too soon."
Harper's, near Michigan State University's campus, closed its doors on June 22 after positive cases were first linked to the establishment. Ingham County officials have asked anyone who was at the bar between June 12 and June 20 to isolate themselves and get tested for COVID-19. County officials said in a press release that most cases linked to Harper's are in young people between the ages of 16 and 28.
"None have been hospitalized. Most have mild symptoms with 28 people being asymptomatic. At least 40% are Michigan State University (MSU) students or recent graduates," officials said.
People who were at the bar say it was busy — and that it felt like nights pre-coronavirus pandemic
Cosby, a Toledo, Ohio, resident who's in his early 20s, was visiting friends in East Lansing when he went to Harper's on June 12 and June 13. He said when he first got to the bar with his friends, it seemed quieter than usual, but as soon as night fell, it felt like any other night before the pandemic.
"As the night went on people began to get up from their tables and mingle/dance. After a while it really felt like everything was normal again, everyone dancing by the DJ, long lines for the bar," he said. "Only thing that felt different was it wasn't shoulder to shoulder like before COVID (besides the main dance floor)."
Cosby said that he and his friends immediately isolated after hearing about the COVID-19 outbreak at Harper's. He tested negative for COVID-19, but at least two of his friends have tested positive.
He said he thinks that in recent weeks, he and his friends were excited to "get back to some sort of 'normal,'" so they rushed to Harper's shortly after it re-opened for business following Michigan's coronavirus pandemic lockdown.
Photos on Cosby's social media show him smiling with friends at Harper's and in Toledo bars. None of them appear to be wearing masks in the photos.
"A lot of people my age (myself included) feel like since we are young and healthy we are invincible when it comes to COVID," he told Insider. "While my friends that tested positive aren't having symptoms they still went a whole week after being exposed not known. They could have unknowingly exposed the virus to others. That was my biggest takeaway from this. While we might not be deathly ill from catching the virus we can easily expose many others and not even know it."
Some customers say that bars should have more stringent safety measures
Sammi Williams, a recent MSU graduate who still lives in East Lansing, was at the bar on June 12. She said no one in her friend group has tested positive for COVID-19, but she's read about the outbreak.
She told Insider that when she was at Harper's, the bar was crowded, the dance floor was "medium busy," and it took a while to get drinks.
"I think [Harper's] should have been smarter about following the rules. But college students tend to not follow rules so we are also to blame. When bars opened so many people went out that I'm not surprised there was another spike especially because of the bars being so busy and people just wanting things to go back to normal," Williams told Insider via Instagram direct message.
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Williams told Insider that she hasn't been to a bar since hearing about the Harper's outbreak.
"I think that people just need to learn to follow the rules so things go back to normal sooner," she said. "I think that the bars also need to be more strict with capacity."
Harper's said on its website that it's undergoing a deep clean while it's closed, its "air handling systems are being modified to kill 99.4% of all COVID-19 and other viruses."
It's not immediately clear what the bar means by its statement, as air handling systems haven't been proven to effectively kill COVID-19, according to Buzzfeed News. Insider has contacted the bar for further information.
The US Environmental Protection Agency says on its website that air purifiers can't fully protect people from COVID-19, but they can help reduce airborne contaminants in confined spaces. The EPA said that air purifiers and filters can be part of a person's larger plan of protection against the virus.
'I don't think there's really a way from stopping college kids from being social,' one Harper's customer said
A recent MSU graduate, who tested positive for COVID-19 after going to the bar and asked to remain anonymous to protect her privacy, told Insider that she also wanted more safety in bars. But regardless, it would be hard to stop college-aged people from going out.
"I'm not against wearing masks and cutting capacities. I was outside for majority of the time I was at Harpers but still contracted the virus," she told Insider in an Instagram direct message. "I don't think there's really a way from stopping college kids from being social, house parties have been going on around East Lansing since this all began."
The woman had been at Harper's June 13, June 17, and June 20. She found out about the outbreak through a friend who had been at Harper's with her, who told her she knew someone who had tested positive for COVID-19. The woman Insider spoke with has had no symptoms, and has been quarantined since testing positive.
She said that before she knew she was exposed to the virus she had interacted with her roommates and her parents, but no one else had tested positive.
"This outbreak scared me mostly because I had gone home to my parents after being exposed but before I was tested," she told Insider. "Thank god I didn't spread the virus to them, I was terrified of that. My mindset about the virus is really the same, I think it's very odd I was the only one to test positive out of my roommates, family and close friends that I spend a lot of time with in close contact."
The virus spread from Harper's to house parties in Grosse Pointe, 100 miles away
According to the Detroit Free Press, cases not only spread at Harper's but also to college-aged parties in the affluent Grosse Pointe neighborhoods near Detroit, about than 100 miles away from East Lansing. Multiple families told the Free Press that an infected student who went to Harper's also attended to a house party and a bonfire where people partied with little social distancing.
Ingham County on Monday issued an emergency order that reduced restaurant capacity across the county to 50% or 75 people, whichever is lower.
Ingham County Health Officer Linda S. Vail said in a press release that larger crowds are "difficult to control."
"By allowing no more than 75 people, restaurants and bars will be better able to enforce social distancing and the use of masks and face coverings. I strongly encourage all bars and restaurants to strictly enforce safety measures and to do all they can to help stop the spread of coronavirus in our community," Vail said.
This article has been updated.
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