The owner of a Mankato bar that was identified by state health officials as contributing to a recent surge in COVID-19 cases in young adults defended his establishment Saturday, saying he has employed aggressive measures to keep patrons from contracting the virus.
Steve Wegman, owner of the 507, said he’s invested in masks, gloves and cleaning supplies and taken many other steps to protect the health and safety of both customers and employees since Minnesota bars and restaurants reopened at limited capacity this month.
The 507 was one of four Minnesota bars — two in Mankato and two in Minneapolis — where clusters of coronavirus infections in young adults have recently turned up, the Minnesota Department of Health said Friday. The others were Rounders Sports Bar & Grill in Mankato and Cowboy Jack’s and the Kollege Klub, both in Minneapolis.
After Midnight Group, which owns Cowboy Jack’s downtown, said Saturday that it’s indefinitely closing that bar and Cowboy Slim’s in Uptown due to what it described as “violence, vandalism and civil unrest” in their surrounding neighborhoods. It did not make reference to any COVID-19 health concerns.
Wegman said Saturday that he was frustrated that his bar was identified as a COVID-19 hot spot, particularly after his staff had followed guidelines issued by the state. He added that he felt establishments like his were in “a no-win situation” with the state Health Department.
“It’s been extremely vague on how we’re supposed to proceed,” Wegman said. “I personally don’t know what more we can do other than close to stop the spread.”
Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease at the Health Department, said the state identified the establishments so that people who frequented the bars would know to get tested for COVID-19 if they develop symptoms.
Public health officials also contacted the bars to share information on best practices, she said.
The Health Department said more than 30 cases had been identified among people who went to Cowboy Jack’s in Minneapolis and the Kollege Klub in Dinkytown between June 14 and June 21.
And roughly 100 people who visited the 507 and/or Rounders Sports Bar & Grill the weekend of June 12-14 were infected. On Saturday, Ehresmann said there were 39 cases associated with the 507, including 32 cases where infected people also visited Rounders.
“Thirty-nine cases who identified being there is concerning and reason for notification,” she said via e-mail. “They had one case who worked while infectious and symptomatic.”
The Health Department reported Saturday that six more people have died of COVID-19, pushing the pandemic’s statewide toll to 1,417. Residents of long-term care and assisted-living facilities accounted for four of the newly announced deaths.
After peaking in late May, daily tallies for hospitalized patients in Minnesota have trended down. That continued Saturday with the latest data showing the number of hospitalized patients dropping from 335 on Friday to 300. The numbers also showed 155 patients required intensive care, compared with 157 a day earlier.
The state on Saturday saw a net increase of 417 newly confirmed cases on a volume of 11,521 completed tests — numbers that continued recent trends of fewer new cases being reported even as the state expands its testing capacity. The number of confirmed cases statewide now exceeds 35,000.
To prevent spread, the 507 is regularly taking temperatures of employees and customers, in addition to regularly sanitizing tables and chairs, said Isaiah Pitchford, the bar’s general manager. It is running only a patio bar, where most people sit at tables, Pitchford said, so staff can make sure people keep their distance.
When the bar learned about an employee who tested positive, Pitchford said he decided to close the establishment for several days for cleaning and to ensure other workers got tested. “We know how serious the COVID-19 virus is and we want to keep everybody safe,” he said.
Pat Bernick, who stopped at the Kollege Klub on Saturday afternoon with his roommates, said they “feel bad” the bar is getting some negative publicity. Will Engstrom, one of the roommates, said that bar staff members have worked hard “to keep us distant [and] adhere to the restrictions.”
Kollege Klub “has been doing a pretty good job,” including limiting the number of customers allowed on the patio at any one time, said Rex Riley, another customer. “They make sure the numbers stay down and everybody’s being smart.”
Staff writer Dan Browning contributed to this report.
Christopher Snowbeck • 612-673-4744
Katy Read • 612-673-4583