For the second consecutive day, Alibi Drinkery in Lakeville opened its doors in defiance of Gov. Tim Walz's indoor dining shutdown, and once again was packed with maskless diners and workers.
A picture taken by BMTN's Joe Nelson's Thursday evening shows a large crowd inside the bar at 20851 Holyoke Ave, with the bar not requiring any COVID safety measures that were in place even before the governor's temporary shutdown, such as mask-wearing for staff, distancing between customers, and a restriction on total capacity.
It opened again despite it facing a 60-day liquor license suspension served by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety that is pending an administrative hearing.
The DPS has warned that continued violations of the shutdown will see efforts taken to revoke liquor licenses for five years.
Furthermore, Attorney General Keith Ellison filed a lawsuit against Alibi and is seeking a temporary restraining order forcing its temporary closure.
Despite criticism for opening at a time when COVID-19 is declining, but still more widespread than at any time in the pandemic other than November, Alibi and other businesses that have chosen to open in defiance of the law are now getting support from some Minnesota Republicans.
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka – who has for months railed against business restrictions, refused to wear a face mask on the Senate floor, and generally played down the severity of the virus – threatened to cut the budget of Attorney General Keith Ellison for every dollar he levies in fines on businesses opening unlawfully.
Gazelka, who himself contracted the virus as part of an outbreak within the Senate GOP following a post-election party in November, said that Walz's extension of the dine-in service ban is a "slap in the face" of businesses and will cause many more to close.
Also on Thursday, incoming Shakopee representative Erik Mortensen – who had previously attracted headlines for planning to hold a Thanksgiving gathering in defiance of COVID guidance – posted pictures from an 800-mile trip he had taken across the state visiting restaurants and bars that had opened for dine-in service.
Cases linked to bars and restaurants in Minnesota are higher than other social settings
Much has been made of the Minnesota Department of Health figures showing the number of COVID-19 infections directly traced back to bars and restaurants.
The Minnesota House GOP issued a statement Wednesday criticizing Walz for extending the indoor dining ban despite "just 2,766 cases tied to restaurants and bars" as of when the shutdown went into effect, suggesting this represents just "0.7%" of total COVID cases.
The data it has cited may not be accurate however. The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association puts the percentage of cases linked directly to bars/restaurants at 1.76%, while MPR's David Montgomery notes that there were 7,087 confirmed cases linked to outbreaks at restaurants between June 10-Dec. 10, "about 2 percent of all cases diagnosed during that time."
He also points out that when you take into account the number of COVID cases with completed contact tracing (186,397 out of 343,240 total cases between June 10-Dec. 10) the percentage linked directly to bars and restaurants rises to 3.8% – significantly higher than the number of cases linked to sports (0.69%), weddings (0.55%), and gyms (0.39%).
The likes of MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm and MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann have been at pains to point out that the numbers likely only account for a small fraction of the true spread of the virus that can be traced back to bars and restaurants, as it doesn't show secondary and tertiary transmissions that can't be traced due to the extent of community spread in Minnesota.
Malcolm has said that in the event a virus goes through four stages of transmission (person gets it at bar/restaurant, gives it to others, who give it to others, who give it to others) the multiplier for the total cases stemming from that single infection has the potential to be as high as 70.
Montgomery goes on to report that the 7,087 cases linked to restaurants in those six months are only those that are linked to "outbreaks," which is defined in Minnesota as five or more cases linked to a single venue, and doesn't take into account isolated infections and bars or restaurants, and occasions when fewer than five people are infected.
You can read Montgomery's full post here, but one key piece of data he shares is the number of people infected with COVID-19 who told contact tracers they had been to restaurants in the 14 days prior to testing positive.
The CDC and health bodies in countries around the world still contend that eating and drinking at bars and restaurants are among the highest risk activities you can carry out, not least due to the potential for the spread of aerosols in shared airspace, and the fact you have to remove your face masks to eat and drink.