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Minnesota hospitality organizations ask businesses and public to follow guidelines to avoid another shutdown

Bars, restaurants and breweries are being asked to follow state guidelines to help slow the spread of COVID-19 following outbreaks in bars across the state.

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Employee Amy Haney sanitizes a table after customers finished dining Thursday at Grizzly’s Wood-Fired Grill in Willmar. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

ST. PAUL — Multiple Minnesota hospitality organizations are urging bars, restaurants and breweries — and their customers — to follow safety guidelines to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic and avoid another shutdown, according to a service industry news release.

The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, Hospitality Minnesota, and the Minnesota Craft Brewers Association sent an open letter Wednesday to both their members and customers to follow requirements regarding social distancing and mask wearing.

Recently, the state has reported hundreds of cases of the coronavirus among Minnesotans in their 20s who had reported visiting bars in Mankato, Minneapolis and St. Cloud.

“After bars and restaurants have been closed by executive order for many months, to now working with 50% indoor capacity, one of the very worst things that can happen to our industry is to go backwards," Tony Chesak, executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, said in a news release. "Industry partners are collaborating to advocate that both customers and business leaders work together to stay focused on helping the industry. And that means following the executive orders so we can, as soon as possible, re-open at 100% capacity.”

In Willmar, Grizzly’s Wood-Fired Grill general manager Chris Minor said they’ve been following the guidelines since they reopened.

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Minor said employees have been wearing masks, sanitizing the restaurant, limiting capacity to 50% and ensuring tables are at least six feet apart.

They’re also screening their employees every day. If they have a cough or fever, for example, employees are asked to stay home. The employees are screened again from home in subsequent days before they are allowed to return to work.

“The minute they take their temp and they have a fever, they go home,” Minor said.

The letter from the state hospitality organizations states that there is a shared responsibility — both businesses and their patrons — to keep each other safe in social settings.

“By doing our part to maintain social distancing and wearing a mask in bars and restaurants, we show respect for each other’s safety and support of our favorite businesses' ability to continue operation,” Liz Rammer, CEO of Hospitality Minnesota, said in the release.

The letter asks hospitality establishments to specifically adhere to the following requirements:

  • Have adopted and implemented a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan.

  • Ensure a minimum of 6 feet of distance between tables.

  • No standing or congregating — people must be seated at tables or the bar.

  • Limit indoor occupant capacity to no more than 50%, up to 250 persons.

  • Do not exceed 250 persons in outdoor spaces.

  • Limit table service to four persons, or six if part of one family unit; two if at the bar.

  • Require reservations.

  • Require workers to wear masks at all times and strongly encourage customers to wear masks when not eating or drinking, especially indoors.

The open letter from the hospitality groups was issued Wednesday, the same day that state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said during a COVID-19 briefing that her department has recommended to Gov. Tim Walz that he adopt a statewide mask ordinance. She said the governor is giving it serious consideration.
Speaking specifically about Fourth of July plans: "If you're in bars and restaurants, spread out, wear masks, carry hand sanitizer," Malcolm said.

While Grizzly's employees are wearing masks as required, Minor said it’s up to the customer if they want to wear one.

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“It’s hard to wear a mask when you’re eating or drinking,” Minor said.

The open letter warns that many establishments won’t survive another closure and that it’s in the community’s best interest to support their survival and do their part.

“Any deviance from the rules — even by a slim minority of individuals — can threaten the future of our favorite local businesses,” Lauren Bennett McGinty, executive director of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild, said in the release.

While Grizzly’s has a bar area, it mainly functions as a restaurant, with seating for diners both in the bar and the main dining room. The recent concern voiced by state officials is focusing on bars that were not following social distancing guidelines put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Gov. Walz warned Monday that bars could be shut down if they don’t follow the rules.

"At some point in time, the carrot turns to the stick to stop this thing," Walz told reporters at the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus. "The bars right now just are not safe, they are not safe when they act that way."

A full list of business guidelines is on the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development website at mn.gov/deed .

Dana Ferguson and Paul John Scott, of Forum News Service, contributed to this story.

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Mark Wasson has been a public safety reporter with Post Bulletin since May 2022. Previously, he worked as a general assignment reporter in the southwest metro and as a public safety reporter in Willmar, Minn. Readers can reach Mark at mwasson@postbulletin.com.
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