ROCHESTER, Minn. -- On a day when two states -- California and Louisiana -- opted to join Texas, Florida and Las Vegas in closing bars and restaurants again to slow the second outbreak of COVID-19, Minnesota health officials reiterated that the state has specific capacity limits and distancing requirements for dining and drinking establishments.
They also reminded the public that those who spot violations have the resources to report establishments that fall short.
"When Gov. Walz turned the dials in June to allow for limited reopening of many sectors, specifically restaurants and bars, it came with some specific protective guidance," state commissioner of health Jan Malcolm said in a call with reporters Monday, July 13.
"Businesses offering food and beverages can provide indoor and outdoor service, but that is only provided they adhere to a set of requirements including that occupancy not exceed 50% capacity with a 6-foot distance between patrons or tables, and a maximum of 250 people."
Malcolm said consumers who spot violators can call the duty officer in the state department of public safety, fill out an online complaint form at the MDH website, or call a hotline to leave a recorded complaint at 651-201-4500.
The reminder comes as officials seem increasingly willing to blame young people in bars for rising numbers of new cases. The median age of cases in Minnesota continues to drop and has now reached 37.6.
"The success of turning the dial depends on all of us following these health guidances," said Malcolm, who added that she believes "the great majority of restaurants and bars are working hard to do the right thing."
Malcolm said complaints will lead to onsite inspections, follow-up inspections and, if those fail, corrective regulatory action.
On Monday, Walz health advisor Andy Slavitt, former acting administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said he had advised Walz to shut down bars and restaurants in Minnesota.
I spoke to Governor Walz and Commissioner Jan Malcolm today and called for closing all of the bars to indoor service across the state of Minnesota.— Andy Slavitt @ (@ASlavitt) July 12, 2020
Bars have been the source of most of the major community hot spots. From NY to CA to TX to AZ, they represent the clearest discernible difference in accelerating case growth.— Andy Slavitt @ (@ASlavitt) July 12, 2020
When they are open, spread increases. When they close, they go down. This is not a secret.
Others have repeatedly depicted bars as places where patrons gather to talk and let go of their troubles, and therefore an inherently challenging environment to enforce physical separation, quiet conversation and careful attention to rules.
Weird that so much transmission would happen in a space that was designed for people to pack into close quarters, then repeatedly put something in their mouths that makes them talk really loud, touch everyone, and generally make bad decisions. https://t.co/rnBG4egZkG— Amy Barnhorst, MD (@amybarnhorst) June 28, 2020
In other developments, state director of infectious disease Kris Ehresmann reminded the public that the most infectious period for people with COVID-19 is two days before they develop symptoms.
"This is why continuing to observe social distancing is so critical," Ehresmann said.
The state of Minnesota reported another 499 cases of COVID-19 on Monday.
The state also reported an additional two deaths from the virus, bringing the statewide death toll to 1,504. The two deaths occurred in Ramsey and Renville counties, and one was a resident of long-term care.
The state has now had five straight days of five or fewer deaths from the illness, a streak not seen in over three months.
Health systems reported 11,776 tests on Monday. That marked a slight dip after three straight days of daily testing counts in excess of 15,000 tests a day.
The week's high-testing streak has seen high daily case counts -- Saturday's high was 806 new cases -- and was responsible for 77,000 new tests in the last five days.
Minnesota has now conducted nearly 770,000 tests for the illness.
ICU use for COVID-19 continues to drop, falling by eight to 114 beds, while those hospitalized in non-ICU settings increased by five to 133.
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Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.