GOP lawmakers accuse state of 'harassing' bars and restaurants over COVID-19

A group of more than 50 Republican lawmakers have sent a letter to Gov. Tim Walz.
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A group of Republican lawmaker has accused the Walz Administration of "harassing" bars and restaurants in Minnesota, amid a planned increase in inspections to see if businesses are complying with COVID-19 guidelines.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety announced Friday it would be increasing its compliance checks amid concern over rising numbers of COVID-19 cases being linked back to indoor service at bars and restaurants.

The announcement warned that establishments found not to be in compliance face fines, the potential loss of their liquor license, or even forced closure.

This constituted a "threat," according to GOPers including House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, with the letter to Walz saying that the notion of shutting down is contrary to previous statements made by the administration that the enforcement of restrictions on bars and restaurants would focus on being "educational" rather than "punitive."

It urges him to "reassess the tone and approach your agencies are taking."

"So many of the restaurants we all love are still struggling to stay afloat, and instead of being a partner in our efforts to keep Minnesotans safe the Walz administration is sending threatening letters," said Rep. Dave Baker (R–Willmar), who himself owned two restaurants until he sold them last year.

He went on to say that the restaurant industry has made major changes to offer more outdoor seating and increase their takeout and delivery offerings during the pandemic, and says there's "no reason for them to be treated like this by state agencies."

The DPS and Department of Labor and Industry teams will visit multiple establishments each weekend to make sure face covering requirements are being adhered to, tables are six feet apart, and capacity is limited to 50%.

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The GOP press release says there's "no data" suggesting restaurants are "major drivers of outbreaks," but then went onto cite a figure from Hospitality Minnesota that estimates "just 2.3% of total state cases" have been traced back to restaurants and bars.

BMTN is trying to clarify if that figure is accurate with Hospitality Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Health, but if it is, that means an estimated 1,744 cases of COVID-19 have been linked to bars and restaurants in Minnesota, which were only allowed to reopen to dine-in service on June 10.

Prior to this, they had been restricted to delivery, takeout or curbside pickup only during the Stay at Home order, which was implemented in mid-March and later loosened to allow patio dining from June 1.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House adviser on COVID-19, said she visited restaurants during her recent trip to Minnesota, and found all she visited to be in compliance with state rules.

So far, COVID-19 outbreaks have been linked back to 29 restaurants and bars in Minnesota, and warning letters were sent to 14 found not to be following guidelines, albeit they were later found to be in compliance.

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