A mid-morning trip to Mall of America on Black Friday revealed shoppers scurrying throughout the mall en masse, though social distancing and mask-wearing was a common sight.
Parking wasn't difficult to find, and once inside shoppers were greeted with constant reminders about distancing and mask-wearing, be it through many signs, bulletins, audio messaging played over the speakers or even mall employees wearing red shirts telling customers to mask-up.
Despite the state's healthcare leaders urging Minnesotans to stay home as much as possible during Gov. Tim Walz's four-week partial economic shutdown (which targets bars, restaurants, fitness centers and other places of entertainment), the holiday deals at the still-open retail stores were worth the risk for thousands of shoppers.
Shoppers were out and about, albeit not to the level of a typical Black Friday, just as the Minnesota Department of Health announced a single-day record 101 deaths from COVID-19, shattering the previous high of 72 set twice within the past 10 days.
"This is definitely the busiest I have seen it during the pandemic," tweeted Star Tribune business columnist Nicole Norfleet.
Just how dangerous is shopping inside the country's largest mall on Black Friday during the height of the pandemic in Minnesota? At a minimum, it's more dangerous than it was just a few weeks ago.
"Every public activity now is more risky than it was even a few weeks ago, so the best way to slow this spread is for people to stay home and away from gatherings with those outside of our immediate household," MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a Friday release.
"And we need everyone leaving their home to follow the basic recommendations every time. That means staying 6 feet apart from others, wearing your mask over your nose and mouth, staying home when sick, and getting tested when appropriate."
However, Gov. Walz chose against imposing restrictions on retail – whether essential or non-essential – in his latest COVID-19 restrictions, saying that the data showed that there have been few instances of transmission of the virus in retail stores during the pandemic, with the risk lower as people are exposed to others only on a transient basis as they move about a store.
This differentiates it from, say, bars and restaurants, where individuals stay in the same location for longer periods of time.
It would appear that the only chance to meet the exposure definition – within six feet of an infected person for 15 or more minutes – while shopping at MOA would be standing in line waiting to enter a store, sitting in the halls eating or drinking with a group (a fairly common sight Friday), or perhaps standing in line at a checkout register.
As an example, here's a photo from Macy's where customers were in line waiting to check out.
"When it comes to Black Friday our best advice is to keep your guard up and know that anytime people gather it creates the conditions for COVID to spread. We encourage everyone to lay low and stay home as much as you can," a spokesperson for the state health department told Bring Me The News.
"This is especially true if you socialized with people outside your household for the holiday. It can take up to 14 days after exposure for symptoms to develop, and we know as many as 40-50% of people who become infected don’t show symptoms, but could still spread the virus to others."
If you simply have to get to the store, MDH recommends shopping during non-peak hours, keep additional space between yourself and others, and washing your hands frequently.
Stores throughout MOA had employees monitoring the number of shoppers allowed inside at a time, with the rest waiting in line outside the entrance, as shown below at an Amazon store.
The scene at MOA when it opened for Black Friday deals was quieter than usual, but according to this Twitter user, around 200 people waited for five-plus hours before the doors opened, then sprinted to a Game Stop store only to learn that it didn't have any of the new Playstation 5 consoles.
Overall, MOA did everything possible to make the shopping extravaganza as safe as possible.