Governor Tim Walz to bars, customers: 'Get this right or we're not going to be able to stay open'

Bars have only been allowed to serve customers inside since June 10.
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Governor Tim Walz

Without widespread discipline from bar owners and customers, Minnesota's bar industry could again face stricter mitigation tactics if bar-fueled COVID-19 outbreaks become a common theme. 

As of Monday, about 200 cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus have come from a pair of bars in Mankato, with another 100 or so from Cowboy Jacks in and The Kollege Klub in Minneapolis. That only represent people who have tested positive after visiting those establishments since June 12. 

"You can just imagine how many people are out there, possibly without knowing it, transmitting the virus," said Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, speaking alongside Gov. Tim Walz at a Monday press conference. 

Walz noted that the "surest way" to move the economy further in the right direction is for everyone to wear a mask in public spaces, though bars appear to be closer to the edge of the cliff as outbreaks make it apparent that the state's health guidance isn't being followed properly. 

"The establishments themselves can set up guidance, but the people coming in there, don't gather together without a mask," said Walz. "The people going in there and the inability to stop it is causing us a problem."

Walz added: "Get this right or we're not going to be able to stay open." 

The guidance from Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) states the following for Minnesota bars and restaurants: 

Restaurants and bars can reopen for indoor service as long as they have adopted and implemented a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan and ensure a minimum of 6 feet of distance between tables. They must also:

  • Limit indoor occupant capacity to no more than 50% up to 250 people
  • Do not exceed 250 people in outdoor spaces
  • Limit table service to 4 persons, or 6 if part of one family unit
  • Require reservations
  • Require workers to wear masks at all times and strongly encourage customers to wear masks when not eating or drinking

Overall, Minnesota is not among the 30+ states currently seeing increasing levels of COVID-19, but outbreaks connected bars in other states have helped fuel explosive case growth in Florida and Texas, where bars have since closed again.

It's the point that University of Minnesota infectious disease expert Dr. Michael Osterholm projects that 100,000 new cases a day could be possible in the U.S. within 3-6 weeks, according to STAT. Right now, there are about 40,000 cases each day. 

“We have to understand if we have 100,000 cases a day, we will have a crisis in intensive care units around the country,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday in a briefing with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

"The bars right now are not safe," said Walz, "they are not safe when they act that way." 

At some point in time, the carrot turns to the stick to stop this type of thing,” Walz said in response to a reporter’s question. He and Malcolm noted that revocation of a bar’s business license is an option, as is reclosing bars statewide.

And Walz said he’s weighing some sort of statewide mask requirement. “Everything’s on the table,” he said.

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