This week on the Minnesota Native News Health Report, another special session of the legislature, bars and restaurants face scrutiny, and students return to campus with mixed results.
State public health officials have not wavered from their safety message of last spring: Masks and social distancing work. Tests, contact tracing and protecting others if you may have the virus – all those things are necessary to stop the spread of Covid 19. But not everyone is listening, and Minnesota topped 80,000 known cases this week. Laurie Stern reports that – among other things, public health experts have started trying to enforce orders the state has in place:
The department of health has received more than 800 complaints about Covid-related safety violations at bars and restaurants. The complaints have come from the public, customers and employees concerned about spreading the virus. Based on those complaints and data showing where outbreaks are the most worrisome, officials conducted compliance checks over the last weekend in August and the first weekend in September. They visited 167 establishments and found almost half with one or more violations.
“Those issues ranged from customers and workers not wearing masks where required, failure to maintain social distancing or a lack of Covid 19 preparedness plans and worker training.” said Dan Huff, Assistant Commissioner at the Department of Health.
Huff emphasized that the visits were not punitive. He said everyone has a stake in bars and restaurants operating safely – the industry, the workers , the customers and, of course, the communities. The checks were conducted in Scott and Carver counties, and the cities of New Ulm. St. Peter, Waseca, Faribault and Mankato.
The Department of Health worked with inspectors from the Departments of Public Safety, Agriculture and Labor and Industry.
“One thing to note is while businesses are doing a good job, customers are not always complying. We know that Covid-19 can spread easily in bars and restaurants because of loud talking, lack of mask-wearing, being in close proximity for long periods of time and lots of high touch areas.” said Nicole Blissenbach, Assistant Commissioner with the Department of Labor and Industry.
Officials said data backs up these concerns. They traced 68 case clusters to 66 bars. And they say the recent inspections offer only a glimpse of the extent of the problem.
The average age of Covid patients is 35 – continuing a downward trend in who is getting sick and testing positive. Of course many colleges resume classes this week and next. Health officials say they are offering guidance to each institution individually although they also said transmission seems to be occurring in social settings rather than classrooms. Finally, the governor announced he is extending Minnesota’s peacetime emergency another 30 days, so the legislature convenes Friday for it’s 4th special session.