The Boardwalk Bar & Grill in East Grand Forks, Minn., plans to remain open despite a cease-and-desist letter it received Thursday from the Minnesota Department of Health in response to its decision to open for dine-in service.
The bar reopened at 4 p.m. Wednesday, defying Gov. Tim Walz's statewide executive order closing bars and restaurants to in-person diners in response to the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the state.
"Yeah, they taped it up on our door," said Christian Moss, the bar's event coordinator, when asked Thursday night if the bar had gotten such a letter.
Moss said the restaurant was "quite a bit busier than yesterday" and confirmed that the restaurant will be open on Friday despite the letter.
It wasn't clear Thursday night whether the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) will enforce its order or how it might go about doing so.
The bar's owner, Jane Moss, has said that the executive order "is creating unlawful and unconstitutional orders that are devastating industries like mine."
She called the directive "a slap in the face," especially because establishments right across the border in North Dakota are open and "doing quite well."
A post about the decision to open on the bar's Facebook page garnered 1,300 comments and demonstrated a wide range of responses to Walz's executive order.
"Great place to dine and die!" wrote Christine Rosman Davis.
Gwen Molsbarger said she's glad the bar will stay open. "How can anyone judge a person self righteously when all Jane is trying to do is earn an honest living?"
An MDH spokesman said Thursday night that the agency usually doesn't provide details about "ongoing regulatory actions," but that he could confirm the cease-and-desist order.
"It's important to note that we work with regulated facilities to bring them into compliance and we consider regulatory or legal action only as a last resort," MDH spokesman Doug Schultz said in an e-mail.
Most people are doing their best to follow the rules, Schultz said. But the department has "enforcement tools" that can be used if an establishment "willingly and dangerously disregards the most important requirements," he added.
A cease-and-desist order from MDH lasts 72 hours at the longest and requires the "regulated party [to] correct or cease the violation cited immediately," he said.
Schultz said he couldn't comment on this situation specifically.
Being consistent with enforcement is "an important fairness issue," he said, because most businesses are abiding by COVID-related restrictions.
He noted that many counties in greater Minnesota are seeing "extremely high rates of community spread" of COVID-19, with Polk County at a 12.9% positivity rate compared with a statewide average of 7.9%. The county has a daily new case rate of 97.7 cases per 100,000 compared with an 87.3 average across Minnesota on Nov. 30.
The governor's order, which limits restaurants to delivering food or offering takeout options, "is necessary to slow this disease burning like a wildfire through our communities and to prevent our hospitals and other parts of our critical infrastructure from being overwhelmed," Schultz said.
"Safe and effective vaccines are on the way, but COVID-19 remains a huge problem in Minnesota and will be around for months still," he said. "We all have a personal responsibility to slow the spread of the pandemic and bring it to an end as quickly as possible, and we appreciate that so many Minnesotans are doing their part."