Clays Galaxy Drive In was in hamburger heaven for the three weeks it was in business this summer until a worker’s positive test for COVID-19 forced it to temporarily close on July 3.
Park Tavern Bowling shut down for cleaning on a prime June 27-28 weekend due to a worker’s infection as well.
The disruptions to two eateries about a mile apart near Hwy. 7 in St. Louis Park reflect the ongoing pains of reopening restaurants, bars and other public gathering places in Minnesota amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Several others in Minnesota have announced temporary closures due to COVID-19 cases after only reopening for indoor dining in mid-June.
“This is, of course, the busiest time for a drive-in,” said Mark Saliterman, Galaxy’s owner. “It’s a shame to close, but I don’t think we have a choice.”
Even as deaths and hospitalizations related to the pandemic level off or decline in Minnesota, health officials are reporting an uptick in COVID-19 cases among teenagers and young adults — the lifeblood of restaurants when it comes to workers and patrons.
The number of Minnesotans in their 20s who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has surged from 4,660 on June 1 to 8,665 on Tuesday. The number of positive tests among children and teenagers has more than doubled in that time frame, from 1,752 to 3,598, as well.
The Minnesota Department of Health on Tuesday reported another 569 positive test results for the coronavirus — the highest one-day total since June 5. The number could have been inflated due to a lag in testing following the July 4th weekend, but regardless, people 29 and younger made up more than half of those new cases.
The state so far in the pandemic has reported 39,133 cases and 1,477 deaths. Tuesday’s update was unusual in that three deaths were reported, but none involved residents of long-term care facilities. Residents of those facilities have made up 1,157 of the deaths.
Only two COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota have involved people 29 or younger, but state health officials fear that broad spread of the coronavirus among this young, mobile population could lead to more infections in older adults at greater risk.
“Even if 20-somethings are not at greater risk for severe disease like older age groups, they are just as susceptible to disease transmission,” said Kris Ehresmann, state infectious disease director.
St. Louis County issued an alert Tuesday due to a single-day high of 15 cases of COVID-19, including nine people younger than 30 and no residents of long-term care facilities. Children and teenagers make up the largest age group of COVID-19 cases in Edina, where Mayor Jim Hovland on Monday pleaded with young people to take precautions.
Bars and restaurants have been epicenters for some outbreaks of COVID-19 among young adults, including Rounders Sports Bar & Grill, the 507 and the Underground Bar & Grill in Mankato; Kollege Klub, Cowboy Jack’s and Sally’s Saloon in Minneapolis; and the Pickled Loon in St. Cloud.
Together, 457 cases have been traced to these establishments. Only 14 cases involved workers. The rest involved patrons, many of whom frequented more than one of the affected bars.
State health officials also are examining a potential outbreak involving 11 patrons and three employees at Dooley’s Pub in Rochester.
Avoiding that role as a spreader of COVID-19 is motivating many restaurants to temporarily close.
Park Tavern had been among the first bowling alleys to reopen on June 10, when Gov. Tim Walz lifted an emergency closure order on such facilities.
Shutting down for extensive cleaning was the safest choice, even though the infected worker had been sick at home for a few days and hadn’t been at the bowling alley, said Phil Weber, Park Tavern’s owner.
“It’s what you’ve got to do,” he said. “And we’re back to whatever our normal is now.”
Others to announce temporary closures due to COVID-19 cases include Mac’s Industrial Sports Bar, which is slated to reopen Saturday, and Spring Street Tavern, both in Minneapolis. The Freehouse, also in Minneapolis, reopened after a brief closure, and the Lexington in St. Paul reopens Wednesday.
Some restaurants have stayed open amid staff cases of COVID-19, though.
The Capital Grille in Minneapolis underwent a disinfectant cleaning but remained open after learning of a positive test involving a kitchen worker, whose last work date was June 18, said Rich Jeffers, a spokesman with parent company Darden Concepts.
The restaurant conducts temperature checks of workers before their shifts, follows state protocols requiring masks and conducts thorough daily cleanings, he added. “We take a number of steps every day to create a safe environment in our restaurants.”
The Galaxy Drive In shut down after a teenage worker and his brother both tested positive, Saliterman said.
It’s unclear whether the worker ever was infectious while working, because some people can spread the virus before they show any symptoms, but Saliterman opted for a 14-day closure to make sure infections don’t emerge in other staffers.
Saliterman said he is reviewing staffing plans to lower risks, including having two entirely separate shifts so that one would be healthy if an infection emerged in the other.
He is urging his younger workers to take steps to reduce their exposure. Galaxy will reopen July 18.
“Two weeks,” Saliterman said, “and we’re going to try it again.”
Staff writer Sharyn Jackson contributed to this report.