As new daily coronavirus cases continued to decline in Michigan, 13 diners congregated at The Landshark, a college bar and restaurant near Michigan State University in East Lansing on Saturday.
The group pushed several tables together, ordered the bar’s signature bright blue “shark bowl” cocktails, and chatted without masks — despite a statewide rule put in place May 15 that restricts indoor dining to no more than six at a table.
Among the rule-shirking diners? Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, D, who has long been at odds with conservatives in the state battling her over strict restrictions.
On Sunday, the governor issued an apology for participating in the outing, explaining that she arrived at the restaurant with a smaller group of friends. As more people showed up, she said, tables were pushed together so that everyone could socialize.
“Because we were all vaccinated, we didn’t stop to think about it,” Whitmer said in a statement Sunday. “In retrospect, I should have thought about it. I am human. I made a mistake, and I apologize.”
Whitmer’s misstep was made public after one of the other diners posted a photo to social media, The Detroit News reported Sunday. The photo was quickly taken down, the newspaper reported, but Whitmer and her chief operating officer Tricia Foster had already been recognized.
Whitmer and her staff have faced criticism in the past for failing to take their own advice on the pandemic. In March, the governor flew from Lansing to visit her father in Florida on a private flight, at a time when she was publicly urging Michigan residents to avoid traveling south for spring break, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Republicans have since scrutinized how Whitmer paid for the trip, which cost $27,521. Whitmer paid for $855 herself, but most of the remaining bill was footed by Michigan Transition 2019, a nonprofit established to pay for inauguration-related events, The Associated Press reported.
Two of Whitmer’s top aides also took vacations out-of-state amid a surge in coronavirus cases this spring, the Free Press reported. Whitmer defended the trips, calling the negative coverage “partisan hit jobs” and emphasizing that Michigan did not implement formal travel restrictions during the pandemic.
The governor has also feuded with restaurant owners who refused to follow statewide coronavirus restrictions.
Whitmer shut down indoor dining for more than two months in late 2020. In January, dozens of restaurateurs staged protests of Whitmer’s orders by opening their dining rooms and serving maskless customers at full capacity. In some areas of the state, local law enforcement agencies ignored the violations, allowing the businesses to continue operating for weeks before the indoor dining ban was eventually lifted.
Michigan has reported at least 986,435 coronavirus cases since the pandemic started in early 2020, and more than 20,000 people living in the state have died because of the virus. The state had a spike in cases last winter, and again this spring.
As cases began to mount again in late March, Whitmer advocated for the federal government to surge vaccine doses to hot spots, including Michigan. As of Monday, more than 40 percent of the state’s population had been vaccinated.
Whitmer announced last week that most of the state’s coronavirus restrictions would end by July 1.
“For the most part, life will be back to normal,” she said last week, The Detroit News reported.