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Indoor bar service to cease in much of lower Michigan, Whitmer orders

The order excludes regions 6 and 8, which include the Upper Peninsula and much of northern Michigan.

MICHIGAN, USA — An executive order signed Wednesday shuts down indoor service at lower Michigan bars in an effort to protect progress made against COVID-19, the governor says. 

"I'm angry. I'm very angry," says Deb Owen, owner of The Web Bar in Grand Rapids. "It's like a kick in the teeth again."

The Web has been open for the last three weeks, but Owen fears another shutdown could be the end of her bar.

The order excludes regions 6 and 8, which include the Upper Peninsula and much of northern Michigan. This comes on the same day the governor signed into law a bill that allows for bars and restaurants to sell to-go cocktails. Outdoor bar service will still be permitted statewide. The order goes into effect at 11 p.m. Wednesday. 

The order applies to establishments that earn more than 70% of their gross receipts from alcohol sales. According to the governor's office, most brewpubs, distilleries and vineyards can stay open indoors. Traditional bars, nightclubs and strip clubs will have to end indoor service.

“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 Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

But for The Web, moving service outdoors isn't cost effective.

"Where am I going to get the money," asks Owen. "Is she giving me a stipend to get an outdoor area that has to be fenced in?"

On Tuesday, Grand Rapids and Lansing were moved to higher risk phases. 

The Lansing region saw new cases rise to over 40 cases per million people a day, and the Grand Rapids region is seeing over 20 new cases per million people a day. Because of that, Lansing was moved into a high risk phase, and Grand Rapids is now medium high risk.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive, said there has been an uptick in new cases in every region of the state over the past week.

RELATED: Michigan stalls at Phase 4 as COVID-19 cases rise statewide, biggest increases in Grand Rapids and Lansing

During a June 30 press conference, both Whitmer and Khaldun brought up an outbreak at Harper's Restaurant and Brewpub in East Lansing. The Lansing State Journal reports 107 cases are linked to Harper's. In Grand Rapids, several bars and restaurants have had to close temporarily after employees tested positive for the virus.  

RELATED: West Michigan restaurants temporarily closed due to positive COVID-19 cases

On Wednesday, the governor cited the Harper's outbreak and outbreaks in other states due to indoor bar service as a reason for the executive order. 

"As bars have reopened for indoor service across the country, some have been linked to a growing number of large outbreaks," a release from the governor's office reads, also citing outbreaks related to bars in Florida, Louisiana, Texas and elsewhere.

Scott Ellis, executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, thinks bars in Michigan shouldn't be pooled with other states. While he agrees bars like Harper's should shut down, he thinks local health departments should decide if bars in their areas have to close.

"Lets look at the actual incidents, was it dancing or whatever that caused it? Was it groups of more than so many at a table," asks Ellis. "Lets look at those things versus straight sales of alcohol versus food because I don't know if that helps."

The governor signed into law on July 1 a package of bills to provide assistance to bars and restaurants. In addition to cocktails to-go, legislation allows for the expansion of outdoor seating in social districts. 

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