Last week, it was a complaint about crowds flocking to Powderhorn Park for pickup games of soccer and volleyball, or just to hang out. Another time it was a crew of workmen without protective gear trimming tree limbs. Once, it was eight police officers drinking coffee at a gas station.
Over the past few weeks, Minneapolis residents have placed dozens of calls to the city’s 311 line to report people for congregating in public, failing to wear masks or gloves or otherwise breaking social-distancing rules aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 200,000 people worldwide. City officials received 173 quarantine-related complaints over a 16-day period ending April 20 — an average of about 11 a day.
When people call 311 with complaints about groups congregating in violation of Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order, they are referred to Regulatory Services, rather than the police, who have said they will enforce the guidelines, but will focus first on education and outreach.
In a matter of weeks, the pandemic has upended daily life. Most activities are suspended as the governor has asked residents to stay at home unless they have vital reasons to go out, while nonessential businesses remain shuttered and restaurants and bars are open only for takeout. Violations carry a fine of up to $1,000 or up to 90 days in jail. Still, unlike in some states, enforcement has been spotty, and as of last week, no citations were given in Minneapolis.
A lack of social distancing at parks accounted for the majority of calls to 311. Most were for groups playing basketball, soccer and other sports, but the city also fielded complaints about coffee-guzzling cops and a fraternity party that someone felt had gotten out of hand.
Park officials on Friday announced the impending closure of basketball and tennis courts, athletic fields, playgrounds and skate parks in an effort to stop large gatherings.
Officials say that people can still enjoy the outdoors, by practicing social distancing and staying 6 feet away from other parkgoers. Some of the city’s parkways have been open to pedestrians since March, and golf courses were also reopened earlier this month following an executive order from Walz, with players free to walk the courses.
Meanwhile, the city is also receiving complaints about businesses evading Walz’s contested closure order, with 123 reports between March 23 and April 20. A gift shop in northeast Minneapolis and a liquor store on the city’s South Side were among the repeat offenders.
Officials received five 311 complaints in a span of two weeks about a tobacco shop on S. Minnehaha Avenue, with one person reporting that even though the store’s open sign was off it was continuing to serve customers.
About two-thirds of the business complaints were about “nonessential” shops, stores and eateries that defied Walz’s shutdown order, which the governor previously said he plans to ease gradually in the next few months. Businesses that reportedly failed to enforce social distancing accounted for another 29 complaints.
David Shinn, associate pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church, said he understands the need for social distancing, but he isn’t surprised that in a time of crisis people would crave human connection.
“We are people who draw connections and strength from each other,” he said.
Joshua Page, a University of Minnesota sociology professor, said that the number of complaints is indicative of a larger public anxiety about the virus and the city’s virtual lockdown, with officials predicting that some restrictions could be in place for months. The latest data projections reveal the peak in possible infections may not come until sometime in late May.
“There is the possibility of distrust of the government and so-called experts, so not believing or not taking it very seriously, either because they’ve had very negative experiences with government authorities in the past and they don’t trust them or don’t believe they have people’s best interests in mind,” he said.