The Minnesota Department of Health confirmed Moonlite Bay Family Restaurant in Crosslake is considered a COVID-19 hotspot after 17 cases since June 1 were tied to the establishment by health officials.

Minnesota is stepping up enforcement at bars and restaurants to make sure they’re following COVID-19 rules. The state health department announced Friday, July 31, it has received 120 complaints about too many people inside of restaurants and bars, and employees not wearing masks.

Moonlite Bay joins a number of local restaurants, eateries and bars tied to confirmed COVID-19 cases, including Harpo’s bar and grill in Merrifield and the b*merri restaurant at The Woods south of Merrifield. Both restaurants confirmed this in social media posts Friday, and both establishments have opted to temporarily close their doors as a precaution. And O'Neary's Irish Pub in downtown Brainerd also announced a temporary closure due to a positive employee. The Town Tavern in Ironton reported Friday it planned to close as well due to an employee developing symptoms, although the employee was awaiting test results.

“While not required to do so I feel this is the best course of action to protect the employees and customers,” the Facebook post stated. “I kinda like some of you and would like to keep you around.”

The known local establishments tied to COVID-19 here are an example but not an exhaustive list of businesses now making these decisions.

In a Facebook post Friday, the proprietors of Moonlite Bay challenged their status as a COVID-19 hotspot according to the Minnesota Department of Health and an article by Bring Me The News, stating health officials did not thoroughly investigate where and when these cases occurred. Furthermore, they noted, there was a good chance these people contracted the virus outside the restaurant building, in other social gatherings, or other circumstances. They stated they would not be closing entirely, but shutting their doors earlier at 11 p.m. every evening.

“We have taken all appropriate precautions as laid out by the MN dept of Health to keep our employees and customers safe,” Moonlite Bay’s post read, in part. “Unfortunately when the dept of health gathers information the only questions they ask about private businesses are, ‘Where you work?’ and ‘Which restaurants or bars you have visited?’ They over look the fact that many people stay in the same cabins, hang out at the same spots on the lake, gather at the same bonfires and many other social events outside of just the restaurants and bars.”

“It is heartbreaking for us that the hospitality industry has to endure such scrutiny during these already crazy times,” the post also stated.

In a phone interview, Friday, Julie Bartkey, a communications officer with the MDH, said Moonlite Bay’s post was a mischaracterization of the investigative process by health officials, which were more extensive and thorough than the restaurant alleged.

“These would be people tied to that restaurant or bar that didn’t go other places,” Bartkey said. “They didn't go bar hopping, so it’s probable that they (health officials) thought it was some kind of transmission at the restaurant.”

Outbreaks of COVID-19 are deemed “hotspots” when there’s seven or more confirmed cases tied to a particular place or event, Bartkey noted, which Moonlite Bay exceeded substantially.

“We do ask them things like where do you work? Where did you go?” Bartkey said. “We don’t say, were you in a bar or restaurant? We say where did you go and then we work from there.”

In their own Facebook posts Friday, b*merri and Harpo’s stated they would be closing their doors temporarily as a measure to protect customers from an outbreak of COVID-19 after confirmed cases were tied to their properties.

“It has just come to our attention that someone associated with the property has been diagnosed with COVID-19. This is not a restaurant employee, however out of an abundance of caution we feel compelled to test our entire staff for the safety of our customers & employees. We apologize for the inconvenience and will keep you posted on when we reopen,” the post by The Woods stated. “We will be closing the restaurant starting Thursday July 30th.”

“Due to an employee testing positive for COVID, we are following the MDH and CDC guidelines and closing temporarily,” Harpo’s stated, in part, in a social media post that noted they would be closed for the weekend at minimum. “Our employees are all being tested and we are conducting a thorough cleaning. We will keep everyone posted as we find out more information.”

O'Neary's Irish Pub posted Friday morning about its closure, which was expected to last for a week.

GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at gabe.lagarde@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5859. Follow at www.twitter.com/glbrddispatch.