Nearly 50 COVID-19 cases linked to Pickled Loon patrons in downtown St. Cloud – SC Times

ST. CLOUD — Nearly 50 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 patronized The Pickled Loon in downtown St. Cloud in the last three weeks, according to the Minnesota Department of

As of Tuesday, 36 of those infected with the virus mentioned visiting only The Pickled Loon and 11 mentioned both The Pickled Loon and other establishments, according to data shared with the Times by Scott Smith, public information officer with the department. The other establishments were not named. 

The estimated dates when patrons visited The Pickled Loon are from June 11 to June 25. Among people who reported dates to the department, the majority visited on June 20 and many visited The Pickled Loon more than once. 

The outbreak follows several in the state associated with bars. On Monday, Commissioner Jan Malcolm said about 200 cases were associated with two bars in Mankato and about 100 cases were associated with two bars in Minneapolis. 

Gov. Tim Walz ordered bars — and a number of other non-essential businesses — to close in March.

Bars and restaurants were allowed to reopen in early June with stipulations: Businesses cannot exceed 50% occupancy and patrons are supposed to be seated 6 feet apart from other groups. 

Bars are not allowed to offer standing bar service and employees are required to wear masks. 

“We started seeing cases come in associated with (The) Pickled Loon in Stearns County over the weekend,” Smith stated in an email. “We are hearing from establishments like (The) Pickled Loon and other area bar and restaurant owners concerns that it has been difficult to get patrons to respect social distancing requirements after the dinner hour and later in the evening past 10 p.m.”

MORE: Stearns County jumps 36 cases Tuesday for 5th straight day of double-digit increases

The Pickled Loon started closing at 10 p.m. last Friday, because late-night customers would not maintain recommended social distancing, wrote the four owners in a series of Facebook messages with the Times. “We would advise other bars to do the same being that it’s packed everywhere not just our establishment.”

They’ve seen other establishments are busy and know from experience it’s harder to control a nighttime, mingling crowd compared to times with regular food service. 

“We felt that we couldn’t control the crowds and didn’t want to be part of the problem,” the owners wrote. “We want to be part of the solution.”

Tables at The Pickled Loon are 6 feet apart, staff wear masks, there are sanitizing stations and management is working to “do everything by the book,” they wrote.

The department did not identify any staff with confirmed COVID-19 infections. 

The median age of the patron cases is 21.5; the age range of those infected is 18-26. 

“We really encourage all patrons to follow social distancing guidelines and to wear a face covering to prevent infections and the subsequent business disruptions that accompany outbreaks,” Smith stated. 

MORE: Walz watching link between COVID-19 surge, bar crowds in Minnesota

Stearns County has seen more than 120 new cases since June 25, including nearly 100 new cases in the past three days. In the week prior to June 25, the county only saw about 20 new cases. 

Stearns County Emergency Management Director Erin Tufte said Tuesday she could not comment on specific businesses but said the county anticipated an increase in cases when Walz lifted the stay-at-home order.

The new cases in the county, she said, are spread out across the county and across all demographics. 

“We expect to see cases rise as people engage with each other more,” Tufte said. “We really need to be adhering to social distancing and wearing masks.” 

Reporter Nora Hertel contributed to this story. 

Jenny Berg is the cities and schools reporter for the St. Cloud Times. Reach her at 320-259-3680 or Follow her on Twitter @bergjenny.

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