The Kollege Klub bar in Dinkytown, just east of Downtown Minneapolis, has been identified as the epicenter of a spike in COVID-19 cases in that neighborhood. Dozens of confirmed cases are now linked to the bar, which is popular among students from the University of Minnesota. This photo, taken last month, shows patrons lined up to get in without any regard to social distancing.

(St. Paul, MN) — On Monday, Governor Tim Walz issued a warning to all Minnesota bar and restaurant owners, and their customers, that he will take action, including shutting them down, if they refuse to adhere to the COVID-19 guidelines.

Confirmed reports of large outbreaks involving at least four bars in Minneapolis and Mankato has health officials worried that their warnings about the need to wear masks and socially distance in public spaces have not been taken seriously. 

Walz has been criticized by a variety of business owners and Republican lawmakers for not opening the economy fast enough after issuing a series of stay-at-home orders. Other states that opened more quickly than Minnesota are now having to dial back openings and establish new rules after huge surges in confirmed cases. 

Walz said Monday that failure to follow the CDC guidelines and the rules set by his administration could result in him having to dial back openings, or not expand existing rules as soon as possible.

“We have gone way beyond the fight about the liberties of Shady’s Bar, and now we’re figuring out that if you gather in tight quarters you’re gonna get people sick and get COVID. I know it’s happening. I know they’re gathering at the bar; you’ve seen the pictures on Facebook where they’re doing that.”

Walz compared the situation involving COVID-19 infections to a more-familiar public health action: when food-borne illnesses occur in a restaurant. “If this were a salmonella poisoning situation, no one would be mad if we stepped in to stop it from happening,” he said. “But in this case, (some might say), you know, ‘You’re taking away our freedom to get salmonella poisoning.”

Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association President, Tony Chesak, said, “The old adage of one bad apple can spoil the whole basket may in fact ring true for us if we do not all do our part. Servers, bartenders and other staff members, YOU MUST WEAR MASKS. 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.”

Chesak also said, “Not following these requirements may end up being the reason for our Governor to dial back. It took 3 months of intense negotiations and sacrifice to get what we have now. We cannot allow for us to take a step backwards and jeopardize our current progress. … With hiccups like what is happening in Texas, Florida and even here in Minneapolis and Mankato, we have to do better.”