In some parts of East Lansing, outdoor gatherings now restricted to 25 people

Megan Banta
Lansing State Journal

EAST LANSING – No more than 25 people can gather outside in parts of East Lansing under an emergency health department order intended to help slow the spread of COVID-19. 

The new emergency order issued Tuesday morning by Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail, restricts the size of outdoor gatherings in an area bordered by:

  • The northern edge of Michigan State University's campus to the south
  • Burcham Drive to the north
  • Harrison Road to the west
  • Hagadorn Road to the east

The area, which was identified based on a historical frequency of noise ordinance violations due to large house parties, includes properties that run along those streets. 

The order is effective immediately and will remain in place indefinitely, according to a news release from the health department

"Large social gatherings can easily become super-spreading events and fuel the coronavirus pandemic," Vail said in a statement. “Over the summer, we have seen this happen across the state and even here in our community. We must do everything we can to prevent another large, local outbreak."

Related:Harper's COVID-19 outbreak: What a state report shows about who got infected and when

Vail urged people to wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash their hands and stay home if they are sick. 

Across the country, COVID-19 infections rose drastically among college-age students during the summer. Nearly a third of Ingham County residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 are between 20 and 29 years old. 

City preparing for student return

Vail's emergency order comes as East Lansing prepares for MSU students to return to campus. 

City officials, the health department and the university have been working together to help stop outbreaks as the pandemic continues. 

City manager George Lahanas said while East Lansing is excited to welcome students back, officials want to make sure residents can stay safe and businesses that are open remain open. 

Michigan State University students, from left, Tate Virkus, Dennis Whitaker, Brady Berg and Trevor Klatt hang out at Crunchy's on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in East Lansing. The students moved into their off-campus housing over the weekend.

In addition to the new emergency rule, city and university officials both require the use of face coverings in public areas on campus and downtown to control the pandemic. 

Related:Masks to be required in all outdoor spaces in downtown East Lansing beginning Monday

University President Samuel Stanley, a medical doctor, said the cooperation between officials and the university is key. 

"Today and together, the Ingham County Health Department, City of East Lansing and MSU are presenting a united front to enhance the safety and well-being of our students, faculty, staff and the greater East Lansing community," Stanley said in a statement. "The lines that once divided campus from our neighbors are becoming less so in the spirit of protecting one another."

The emergency order is one of a handful Vail has issued that enacts stricter restrictions than state orders. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer restricted outdoor gatherings to 100 or less in most of the Lower Peninsula. 

Local officials felt more stringent measures were necessary, the press release states. 

Vail also limited restaurant capacity to 50% or no more than 125 people, whichever is less. She had previously capped capacity at 50% or up to 75 people. 

An executive order from Whitmer restricts capacity to 50% but does not impose an upper limit as Ingham County's order does. 

Exceptions, indoor limits

Schools, childcare organizations, community centers, places of religious worship, farmers markets, and parks within the restricted area are exempt from the county's emergency order but must continue to comply with the 100-person outdoor limit.

Restaurants are classified differently than social gatherings and are not included in the emergency order.

For indoor gatherings, the limit is no more than 10 people per executive order. 

All gatherings, whether inside or outdoors, must be designed to ensure that people from different households maintain a social distance of at least six feet.