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The Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled that the state's health department had the authority to enforce COVID-19 restrictions and impose penalties against food and drink establishments that violated them.

Mission Tavern, in Merrifield, and Norm's Wayside in Buffalo, Minnesota filed an appeal after they each had their liquor licenses suspended for remaining open in violation of rules set by MDH in 2020.

The onset of the deadly virus sparked an initial shutdown of food and drink establishments and other businesses deemed non-essential via executive action from Gov. Tim Walz between mid-March and early June, in an attempt to limit transmission of the virus and the knock-on impact on health facilities.

After being allowed to reopen, albeit with capacity restrictions, Gov. Walz announced another shutdown in late November 2020 due to the spiking cases caused by the alpha variant, with Walz lifting the restrictions again in early January 2021.

According to court documents, the health department received a number of complaints regarding Mission Tavern and Norm's Wayside and their lack of compliance during the shutdown periods.

State health investigators went to both locations after the complaints were made. 

"MDH staff inspected both establishments a number of times and found repeated violations of the executive orders, including instances of the establishments remaining open and serving customers indoors during the months when on-premises consumption was prohibited," court documents state.

In response, the health department provided notice of the violations to both bars, issuing a "cease and desist" order. When the businesses continued to operate and ignore the order, MDH suspended both liquor licenses and revoked Norm's Wayside's license – albeit both of these suspensions and the revocation were stayed. 

In addition, MDH also imposed a $10,000 fine for each restaurant.

Both bars contested the penalties, claiming that MDH didn't have the authority to enforce the executive orders, also arguing the orders "were unconstitutional because they lacked a rational basis."

But the Court of Appeals affirmed a district court ruling in favor of MDH, stating: "MDH had statutory authority to enforce the executive orders under [The Minnesota Health Enforcement Consolidation Act of 1993] and that [Mission Tavern and Norm's Wayside] failed to demonstrate that the executive orders lacked a rational basis."

There has not been a statewide business shutdown since thanks to the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine in late 2020, which helped reduce transmission and hospitalization levels. 

Minnesota saw 7,005 deaths from COVID-19 in the first year of the virus, with health systems becoming overwhelmed at times particularly during the winter.

Bring Me The News reached out to both Mission Tavern and Norm's Wayside for comment on Monday.

Multiple restaurants and businesses violated the executive orders during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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