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University of St. Thomas responds to viral photo of large crowd outside St. Paul college bar

It's not clear if the crowd outside the bar were UST students.

A long line of what appears to be college students waiting to get into a St. Paul bar has made its way across social media, and it's now caught the attention of leaders from the University of St. Thomas (UST). 

The image shows dozens of people crowded together Thursday night outside Plums Neighborhood Bar and Grill, located at 480 Snelling Ave. S. It's unclear how many of the people are wearing masks, but social distancing guidelines clearly weren't being followed. 

“We are aware of the photos that were shared on social media last night, and we share the same concerns about the lack of social distancing and face coverings," UST Vice President for Student Affairs Karen Lange said in a statement to Bring Me The News. 

Despite not being able to confirm if anyone in the crowd is a St. Thomas student, Lange noted that Plums "has historically been a popular spot for our community." 

"We reached out to the bar owner today and had a productive discussion about the expectations we have for our students. We’ll continue to have open lines of communication with him," Lange added. 

The owner told FOX9 that the bar had reached capacity so a large crowd decided to wait outside rather than go elsewhere. 

UST students were allowed to move belongings into dorms Aug. 29 through Sept. 4, with Sept. 4 also marking the first day students were allowed to move in permanently for the fall semester. Classes are scheduled to begin Wednesday, Sept. 9. 

Students have been asked to sign a COVID-19 health and safety agreement, and anyone who doesn't sign the agreement cannot participate in any on-campus activities, including classes that are offered in-person. The agreement asks students to honor a commitment to avoid large gatherings and wear masks while visiting indoor common areas on-campus. That part of the agreement says: 

"I will follow physical/social distancing guidelines, maintaining a minimum of six feet between myself and others with whom I do not live whenever feasible. I will abide by all seating and occupancy guidelines in classrooms, dining, residence halls and other common areas. I will avoid large gatherings and comply with state, local and university directives on group size."

"We can’t overstate how important those behaviors are, and we’ll continue to reinforce them at every available opportunity. This is certainly one of those opportunities," Lange said. 

Minnesota at a 'tipping point'

Dozens of Minnesota bars and restaurants have been linked to COVID-19 outbreaks. The Department of Health (MDH) defines an outbreak as seven or more laboratory-confirmed cases in which contact tracing makes an establishment the probable site where a patient contracted the disease. Outbreaks are possible even if bars and restaurants strictly enforce coronavirus safety protocols. 

This week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's top infectious diseases expert, noted that the Midwest is emerging as a problem area, and identified seven states – among them Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota – that need to be on "high alert" entering Labor Day weekend after spikes in cases.

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Dr. Deborah Birx, an advisor for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, visited Minnesota this past week and said the state has reached a "tipping point," which was the focus of a Thursday press conference with Gov. Tim Walz and MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm. 

"We all saw the dramatic pictures from Texas and Arizona, Georgia, Florida where they were also, as you note, in a pretty stable looking pattern until they started to accelerate and then hit what is known in the epidemiologic circles as logarithmic spread where it just begins to build and build exponentially on each other and that's what we're trying to avoid," Malcolm said. 

As of Friday, Minnesota has been home to 78,966 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1,847 deaths. The state's test positivity rate, based on the number of positive tests divided by the number of people tested, is at 8.60% – the 20th-highest rate among U.S. states, according to Johns Hopkins University

South Dakota (22.23%), North Dakota (19.09%) are ranked Nos. 1 and 2, while Iowa (16.04%) is fifth and Wisconsin (9.49%) is 16th. 

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