The number of COVID-19 outbreaks linked to weddings in Minnesota shot up in August and September, according to Minnesota Department of Health figures.
The latest data provided to BMTN shows that just two COVID-19 outbreaks – defined as seven positive cases or more – were linked to weddings in June, followed by five in July.
But in August, that number increased to 21, and was followed by 23 wedding outbreaks in September.
Out of the 51 total wedding outbreaks, there have been 459 cases of COVID-19 linked to them, as of Friday, Oct. 9. The MDH does note that while COVID-19 positive people may report attending the events, it's not necessarily the source of their infection.
However, the department also notes that many patients "may be reluctant to share information about social events," and as such the total case numbers may be higher than is officially reported.
It comes amid renewed scrutiny about the extent to which Minnesota residents and businesses are adhering to COVID-19 rules on capacity restrictions, social distancing, and indoor face mask-wearing.
One of the largest outbreaks happened in late August at a wedding in Ghent, southwestern Minnesota, where at least 75 cases were linked to an event that exceeded the state's 250-maximum gathering size, and at which masks were not worn indoors – where transmission of the virus is more likely.
BMTN meanwhile has been contacted by an individual who worked a wedding in Stearns County this past weekend, who said around 150-230 people were in attendance and no masks were worn during the reception and subsequent dance, which was held indoors at a restaurant and event center.
"Based on our work with event planners, we understand that these outbreaks are a result of a lack of masking and social distancing, especially while dancing," an MDH spokesman told BMTN.
The guidance for weddings
The decision by wedding parties and their guests not to wear masks presents a conundrum for venues and the employees who work at them.
Minnesota's mask mandate requires that all workers and customers wear face masks in indoor public spaces, and there are minimum requirements expected of venues hosting such events. The only time where it's permitted that face masks be removed indoors is while eating or drinking.
Signs must be posted instructing customers to wear facemasks, with MDH saying that citations have been issued to businesses that didn't post any signs at all, or posted different signs that suggests it's "up to the customer" whether they wear one or not.
Businesses are required to remind anyone not wearing a mask that they must wear one, and the State of Minnesota updated its guidance for weddings and similar events last week that makes it "an explicit requirement that guests wear masks while dancing," and that it's the state's "expectation that the venues hosting the event ... ensure that the patrons are adhering to these requirements."
It also says that the number on the dance floor should be limited, and social distancing between household groups should be adhered to.
"Dancing has a higher risk of spreading COVID-19 because vigorous physical activity results in heavier breathing," the state guidance says.
"With high exertion and breathing, the potential for more respiratory droplets to be released in the air is increased. Because of this, dancing at social gatherings and events is not recommended."