ROCHESTER -- The Minnesota Department of Health has received 120 complaints in the last five days about bars and restaurants failing to comply with state guidance on safe practices for minimizing spread of COVID-19, according to Jan Malcolm, state commissioner of health, in an afternoon news call on Friday, July 17.

The most reported violation was employees failing to wear a mask, Malcolm said. Other reports included bars and restaurants that let in more than the 50% capacity, not placing tables 6 feet apart and failing to follow other distancing and safe practices.

As a result of this influx of calls the health department is reassigning staff to a dedicated team for investigating drinking and dining establishments that have broken the current safety orders.

"We're stepping up this enforcement not to play gotcha with restaurants and bars," Malcolm said, "but because we feel so strongly that following these requirements is essential to prevent the spread of COVID-19, to protect both customers and staff staff in these establishments and, frankly, to increase our chances of keeping the spread low enough that we can avoid pretty drastic draw backs in what establishments are open and how they can operate."

Malcolm stressed that "very many operators and establishments" were working hard to do the right thing.

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The commissioner linked better compliance among patrons and workers of restaurants as the public's best pathway toward a highly sought prize: the reopening of schools.

"Taking precautions in these settings and others this summer," she said, "makes it more likely that we will be able to have students in classrooms this fall."

In addition to tips received on its noncompliant businesses hotline and through the state website, the health department has been fielding tips via social media.

"There were some posts that alerted us to things that were happening in Minneapolis bars," said director of infectious disease Kris Ehresmann, "but they also tell us about events and large gatherings, that we then use when looking at tracking at what's going on with case counts in different communities."

The number of new cases of COVID-19 in the state rose by 669 on Friday. The new cases bring the laboratory-confirmed case count in the state to 45,013.

Among those 669 new cases, the health department reported an additional 13 cases in Blue Earth County, 15 cases in Stearns County, 16 cases in St. Louis County, 25 cases in Olmsted County, 32 cases in Washington County and 220 cases in Hennepin County.

The state's health systems conducted another 14,671 tests for the day.

The health department reported an additional seven deaths from the illness on Friday, one each in Anoka, Dakota and Lyon counties and four in Hennepin County. Four of the seven deaths were among residents of long-term care.

To date 1,533 Minnesotans have died of the illness.

ICU use for COVID-19 care rose by seven beds to 110, with another 142 patients hospitalized for the illness in non-ICU settings.

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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.