On June 10, Minnesota bars, restaurants and some other indoor venues were allowed to reopen at 50% of capacity as long as employees wore masks and tables were set up to allow for social distancing.
About five weeks into that experiment, state inspectors found a relatively small but disturbing number of patrons and venues violating those rules. According to officials with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), outbreaks of coronavirus infections were linked to 14 bars and 710 people. And that's contributing to the disturbing rise in cases that the state has experienced in recent weeks.
Minnesota's best chance to reverse that trend is to follow state guidance to the letter. Masking and distancing should not be part of a political debate. They are simply the most effective ways to reduce the spread of the highly contagious disease.
During Monday's COVID-19 update, MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said compliance is critical. If people follow the guidance, infection rates will drop.
MDH reported a total of 51,803 cases in Minnesota, with 650 newly reported. Among that total, 29,398 have been among people aged 20-49, with a median age of 36.
The recent inspections of business were done in early July by the Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division of the state Department of Public Safety (DPS), along with various law enforcement agencies in the state. The majority of violations were for employees failing to wear masks, but there was also failure to socially distance and limit the number of customers.
DPS hasn't issued fines, pulled licenses or forced closures — so far. But those types of penalties could come if businesses continue to violate the rules.
For the good of their patrons and employees, restaurants and bars should adhere to state guidelines. And customers should contribute to compliance as well by calling ahead for reservations, keeping dining parties small and wearing masks until seated a proper distance from others. And, if necessary, they should notify a manager or server if other employees or customers are violating the rules.
Other common-sense reminders: Wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizer, and avoid shaking hands.
We're all eager to get "back to normal" — including socializing in packed bars, restaurants and other public venues — but rushing things will only lead to setbacks as cases rise.
Booker Hodges, DPS assistant commissioner for law enforcement, said he understands and shares the frustration about pandemic-related restrictions. But he added that "this is a storm that we're all going to have to weather together. ... We're in the middle of a health crisis, and despite the frustrations, we all have to get through this."
Failure to follow the rules will likely force more closures, as has happened in other states when infection rates started climbing. Yes, bars and restaurants are operating at limited capacity now, but at least some Minnesotans are able to enjoy them.