Health officials ‘rely on personal responsibility’ as diners return


LANSING – Health officials can make bars and restaurants follow the rules for reopening, but handling people is a different matter.

As restaurants and bars begin reopening across Greater Lansing, Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said if businesses don’t follow capacity and distancing requirement, enforcement is an option.

For lines outside, there’s little to be done, she said.

“We do have to rely on personal responsibility,” Vail said.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer allowed bars and restaurants to reopen Monday with capacity limits and requirements for spacing customers apart. Whitmer ordered dine-in service to stop on March 16 but still allowed restaurants to offer carry-out and delivery service.

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Vail was responding on Tuesday to questions about what enforcement options her department had when it comes to lines outside of bars. Photos circulated on social media showed people lined up from the door of Harper’s in East Lansing onto the sidewalk. Many groups were standing closely together and few wore masks or face coverings.

“What happens in lines outside establishments is really up to people,” Vail said. 

People are reacting to the reopening differently, Vail said. Some are still cautious and don’t want to go out yet. Others want to go out and get back to normal.

“That’s going to be very hard to control,” Vail said.

Lines outside of bars and restaurants caused concern for health officials during the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak. In response, Vail ordered bars and restaurants to reduce their capacity, particularly in East Lansing, in the days leading up to Whitmer’s order closing those establishments.

If health officials see an establishment that’s exceeding capacity limits, an enforcement action is possible, Vail said. If businesses follow the rules, it’s all health officials can do.

Businesses can’t necessarily control how people behave, she said, and once customers start to get up and walk around, hover around the ends of tables or go to the bar, health officials aren’t dealing with an issue with the rules but with human nature.

People who are not from the same household should remain 6 feet apart and wear a mask or face covering, Vail said. Masks are required when people are inside an enclosed public place, though they can be removed to eat or drink, and are recommended for outdoors in group settings.

“That’s what will now make it very difficult to manage, there’s no enforceable action for that,” Vail said.

Contact reporter Craig Lyons at 517-377-1047 or calyons@lsj.comFollow him on Twitter @craigalyons.

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