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 Crews install a 120-by-20-foot deck on the street in front of Fifth Avenue, a sports bar in downtown Royal Oak, July 1. On June 29, the Oakland County Health Division announced that three individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 all reported having been at Fifth Avenue the evening of June 19.

Crews install a 120-by-20-foot deck on the street in front of Fifth Avenue, a sports bar in downtown Royal Oak, July 1. On June 29, the Oakland County Health Division announced that three individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 all reported having been at Fifth Avenue the evening of June 19.

Photos by Sarah Wojcik


Three cases of COVID-19 linked to Fifth Avenue

Officials urge anyone at bar June 19 to monitor symptoms

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published July 2, 2020

 A grand opening for the 120-by-20-foot deck in front of Fifth Avenue was set for July 2.

A grand opening for the 120-by-20-foot deck in front of Fifth Avenue was set for July 2.

 The outdoor patio at Fifth Avenue will continue to serve patrons. On July 1, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a new executive order closing indoor service at bars throughout much of lower Michigan.

The outdoor patio at Fifth Avenue will continue to serve patrons. On July 1, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a new executive order closing indoor service at bars throughout much of lower Michigan.

 Signage at Fifth Avenue advises patrons of safety protocols.

Signage at Fifth Avenue advises patrons of safety protocols.

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ROYAL OAK — On June 29, the Oakland County Health Division announced that three individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 all reported having been at Fifth Avenue, a sports bar in downtown Royal Oak, the evening of June 19.

The individuals, who did not arrive together and developed symptoms afterward, reported that the sports and entertainment venue was crowded, according to the Oakland County Health Division.

According to a voice recording when calling Fifth Avenue, the bar reopened June 8. The recording states that the venue would be operating at half capacity, with all staff wearing masks and using disposable plates, glassware and silverware.

“We will be going above and beyond to do our best to make all of our guests safe and comfortable,” the recording states.

County health officials urge anyone who was at Fifth Avenue, 215 W. Fifth St., June 19 to carefully monitor themselves for COVID-19 symptoms, which include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.

Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus.

Tony Yezbick, one of the owners of Fifth Avenue, said that COVID-19 is a serious issue and that the bar is taking it seriously, but that he felt it was “unfair” and “frustrating” to be named by the Oakland County Health Division. He said the bar was operating at half capacity, with patrons allowed to enter and leave one at a time and wait outside in a line on chalk X’s spread 6 feet apart.

“We heard it through the news media 10 days after the fact," Yezbick said in a July 1 interview with C & G Newspapers. “We followed every bullet point contained in the executive order, and one important additional thing we do is temp check every staff member and every guest, and we have all our staff wear masks and fill out daily health questionnaires out of an abundance of caution.”

He said Fifth Avenue closed its inside portion June 30 for professional cleaning and that the outside patio was empty, likely due to the report linking the bar to the three positive COVID-19 cases.

He said the bar was slated to reopen its indoor portion July 2, but on July 1, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a new executive order closing indoor service at bars throughout much of lower Michigan. Whitmer also signed a package of bills allowing restaurants and bars to serve to-go cocktails and expand social districts to allow for more outdoor seating and areas for people to safely congregate. The state said the moves are in response to an uptick in COVID-19 cases in every region of Michigan, specifically outbreaks linked to bars.

Yezbick said the executive order affects Fifth Avenue, but the City Commission recently approved the closure of Fifth Avenue — the street outside — to install a 120-by-20-foot outdoor deck on the street. The grand opening of the deck was set for July 2.

“Prior to this, we were offering complimentary face masks for anyone that didn't have one, but now we will give one to every single person,” he said. “We have a 12,000-square-foot building that’s been taken away. We’re going to go back to the drawing board and work with the city to help us navigate this by working with the cocktails-to-go.”

Dr. Russell Faust, medical director of the Oakland County Health Division, said Oakland County is not going to get on top of the pandemic unless people take two precautions: wear a mask and social distance at least 6 feet from others.

“Those two precautions are very important,” Faust said. “If living in a multi-generational household, like mine is, they need to be aware they are potentially risking a vulnerable population — that is the elderly, as well as those with chronic disease.”

He said the county monitors all positive COVID-19 results reported to the statewide database and employs an approximately 20-person case investigation team that is composed largely of epidemiologists. The team questions individuals with the virus to find out when their symptoms began and where they have been.

“We would have the list of contacts and names of those potentially exposed, such as at work or a pool party, and at that point it moves over to contact tracers. They make all the calls of potentially exposed people,” Faust said.

It becomes more difficult to contact trace when large groups congregate at locations such as restaurants, bars or clubs, where patrons do not log in at the front door and cannot name everyone they spoke to or came into contact with.

“We’re literally talking hundreds of people. Even on that single date, we had three positives,” Faust said. “As things loosen up, I understand the frustration. We have a young generation who feels immortal and like they can go out and see their friends finally after being locked up for three months, but the fact is they’re not invulnerable.”

Data from the county’s “7 Day Average of Daily Cases” shows a gradual decline in cases until June 16, where the total confirmed cases dipped to nine. From June 17 to now, the chart shows a gradual incline in cases. 

“We have upwards of 200 people trained for contact tracing. We’re prepared to use technology apps and portals to exponentially expand contact tracing,” Faust said. “We’re as ready as we can possibly be in Oakland County, but it shouldn’t come to that. We can stop it now.”

There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19 — the best way to prevent infection is to avoid exposure to the virus. To reduce the spread, wear cloth face coverings, social distance, and stay home when sick, except to get medical care.

Oakland County Marketing and Communications Officer Steve Huber advised anyone who feels a place is getting too crowded to leave. Anytime a complaint is filed, he said, the Oakland County Health Division sends an investigator to the location in question. To file a complaint, call the Oakland County Health Division at (248) 858-1280. 

As of press time, Oakland County had 8,856 cases, 1,034 deaths and 7,438 cases of recovery from COVID-19; Michigan had 70,728 cases, 6,193 deaths and 51,099 cases of recovery from COVID-19.

For more information, visit oakgov.com/covid or call the Oakland County hotline at (248) 848-1000. For health questions, call the Oakland County Nurse on Call at (800) 848-5533.

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