REGIONAL- By now, anyone who is on social media has seen the photos: crowds at area bars and restaurants not following the rules for social distancing, and bar and restaurant staff not wearing face …
REGIONAL- By now, anyone who is on social media has seen the photos: crowds at area bars and restaurants not following the rules for social distancing, and bar and restaurant staff not wearing face masks.
The state guidelines for safely reopening bars and restaurants clearly spell out the new rules: ensuring a minimum of six feet between tables, limiting indoor capacity to no more than 50 percent, requiring reservations, and requiring workers to wear masks at all times and to strongly encourage customers to wear masks when not eating or drinking.
On Monday, Gov. Tim Walz stepped into the fray, warning bar and restaurant owners and customers that the state is considering additional restrictions, including closing them back down, if guidelines are not being followed.
At this point, the Minnesota Department of Health, and the Department of Labor and Industry, have been working on educating bar and restaurant owners.
“Our inspectors are getting a lot of questions on how they comply with their specific situation,” said Blake Nordin, North Field Operations Supervisor from MDH.
“We do get complaints from the public about certain places that aren’t social distancing and mask wearing,” he said. “If that happens, we remind the owners what the executive order says. We want them to be able to operate within the guidelines.”
Nordin said they understand how difficult it is for some businesses to comply with these rules.
“But hopefully this will shorten the time we have to operate like this,” he said. Nordin says their inspectors are seeing many restaurants and bars that are complying, but also seeing many that are struggling.
“We just want to remind everyone of the importance of this,” he said.
Just this last week, four large outbreaks of COVID-19 have been traced back to bars in Minneapolis and Mankato. In addition, contact tracing in the state has shown that close to 10 percent of the 6,500 people who had just tested positive had been at restaurants or bars immediately before being diagnosed.
Minnesota Com-missioner of Health Jan Malcolm has said that traditional bar settings are not yet allowed under current reopening rules. Instead, bar spaces are treated like restaurants, which means tables must be spaced six feet apart. And while bars have closed off half their seating to encourage social distancing, standing or crowding at the bar spaces is also not permitted.
Tony Chesak, from the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, sent a memo to its members this past week warning that lax enforcement may lead to future closures.
“Servers, bartenders and other staff members, YOU MUST WEAR MASKS,” he wrote. “It is the law and having your customers wear them is mandatory in some cities in Minnesota but strongly suggested statewide. Make sure ‘social distancing’ is adhered to with both your staff and your customers (ie. table spacing; booth partitions; not gathering at the bar, etc.) Also, reservations is not just a suggestion, it, too, is a requirement.”
Fortune Bay Director of Sales and Public Relations Brian Anderson said they have implemented the state guidelines, and so far, their guests have responded mostly positively to the new rules.
“They know we are taking this seriously,” he said. “This is a new normal to get used to. It is not going to just go away.”
Anderson said they require all their employees, as well as guests, to be wearing masks (except if eating/drinking). Fortune Bay is also doing temperature checks on everyone entering the premises.
Fortune Bay staff meets daily to talk about safety and cleaning issues, as well as feedback from guests. Anderson said they have heard from some former customers who said they won’t return if mask-wearing is required.
“We know that wearing masks is uncomfortable,” he said. “We are protecting those at risk.”
Autumn Jacobson, one of the co-owners at BayView Bar and Grill said they have reduced the capacity in their outdoor eating area and are following all the sanitizing/cleaning guidelines. But having their servers wear masks has been more of a challenge. All their servers do have masks with them and will put them on if requested by a customer. But requiring their use while working outdoors in a hot and often humid environment is difficult, she said.
“We are trying our best,” Jacobson said.
COVID-19 transmission in outdoor areas has not been as great a concern as in indoor seating environments. BayView is only serving food and drink outdoors this summer.
Having employees wear masks seems to be a tough sell in other restaurants also. The Timberjay has received comments from multiple area residents concerned about the lack of face masks by staff at area restaurants. The lack of mask-wearing is keeping some regular customers, who fall into high-risk categories or have family members that do, from dining out.