5 wedding guests have coronavirus after Southgate hall hosts large gathering

Kristen Jordan Shamus
Detroit Free Press

It was a wedding gift no one expected when they celebrated newlyweds at a Downriver banquet hall on the afternoon of July 18.

But the Wayne County Public Health Division announced Wednesday that at least five people who attended the lunchtime reception at Crystal Gardens Banquet Hall in Southgate now have COVID-19. 

Warning that the coronavirus could have spread to others, the health division urged anyone who attended the reception to self-quarantine at home and to call the Public Health Division at 734-727-7078 to report their contacts. They also should get tested for coronavirus as soon as possible.

Crystal Gardens in Southgate.

Michael McElrath, a spokesman for the health division, said an investigation remains ongoing, and Wayne County’s communicable disease team is doing contact tracing to identify potential cases. Those who have tested positive for the virus have been instructed to self-isolate until they are cleared by public health officers.

Between 100-125 guests from the local community attended the indoor celebration, which had been booked about six months in advance, said Mort Meisner, a spokesman for Crystal Gardens and president of Royal Oak-based Mort Meisner Associates.

"There was no dancing," Meisner said. "Social distancing was practiced. So many of the many events we've had scheduled have been moved into the fall or winter. Some have been moved to an outdoor park in Southgate, but we did go ahead with this event because the people were desperate to have it."

Instead of seating 10 people per table, Meisner said Crystal Gardens seated six. And the banquet hall where the reception took place was operating at about 10% capacity that day. It can seat as many as 1,200 people.

Still, the Wayne County Public Health Division alleges Crystal Gardens violated Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive order 110, which limits gatherings to no more than 10 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.

When asked whether Crystal Gardens would be penalized for violating the order, McElrath said only "the investigation is still ongoing."  

COVID-19  test

The health division is sending out notifications to all Wayne County banquet halls to reaffirm the rules of the executive order. It also plans to increase inspections at banquet halls and other large venues, including during after-hours and on weekends, to confirm compliance with the executive order.

But Meisner questioned why restaurants are able to operate indoors at 50% capacity and Crystal Gardens is considered in violation of the executive order when it operated at just 10% of its capacity. 

"How is a catering hall different than a restaurant for a sit-down meal?" he said. "The answer is: It isn't. ... It's really unfair if Joe Blow's restaurant is allowed to be open and have 100 or 200 people in it while practicing social distancing. ... We should be held to the same standard.

"We are aware of the governor's order, but we think it's unfair to single out catering halls, who are serving the same function as a restaurant."

He also questioned how health officials can pinpoint that coronavirus was spread by people attending the wedding. 

"It's regrettable anyone is sick, period," Meisner said, "but very difficult to prove that it happened there, especially considering the relative short amount of time it's been since the event.

"Crystal Gardens has long been a pillar of the Downriver community. People count on us for our funerals, weddings, retirement parties. ... We didn't have some wild party there. We had a sit-down lunch for a group of nice people from the Romanian community."

The Wayne County Public Health Division urged people to avoid large gatherings, continue to practice social distancing and wear masks to prevent further spread of the virus. 

“The safety and protection of Wayne County residents is our top priority,” said Wayne County Health Officer Carol Austerberry in a news release. “Businesses must be intentional about following the rules to limit the spread of COVID-19 and save lives.”

Contact Kristen Jordan Shamus: 313-222-5997 or Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus.