By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Health officials call Minnesota’s largest COVID-19 social spreader the perfect storm.

Members of a wedding party in southwestern Minnesota turned up to the ceremony sick. Five weeks later, at least 77 attendees have tested positive in nine different counties across the state.

In a town of just a few hundred people near the South Dakota border, a spacious ballroom serves as one of just a few wedding venues in the area.

Mark Staufaker is co-owner of KB’s Bar and Grill in Ghent.

“Ever since the mask mandate our employees we always wear a mask,” Staufaker pointed out.

Like every restaurant in Minnesota, KB’s Bar and Grill in Ghent remained closed until June.  They implemented all required COVID-19 mandates to be able to open and host smaller gatherings again.

“We do have signs up that it is a mandate to wear a mask, we have hand sanitizer up as well in the ballroom,” he said.

But on Aug. 22, it wasn’t enough to ward off the state’s largest social spreader to date.

“Yeah, a dubious honor,” Environmental Health Manager at Southwest Health and Human Services, Jason Kloss remarked.

Of the 275 people there on the night of the reception and dance, 77 of them tested positive.  It’s more than a quarter of the guest list and they range from the ages of 10 to 84.

“It created opportunities. COVID took advantage of that,” Kloss said.

He says that opportunity started with what he called “key members” of the wedding party being sick. That information that was never disclosed until days later.

“You have a wedding, people are typically not social distancing, gathering large amounts of people, symptomatic people, that creates the perfect storm for disease spread,” Kloss said.

Inspectors visited KB’s that week and found a tent outside to separate the large crowd and for the most part, a business following the rules.  So, no enforcement action was taken.

“As far as blame the business owner I don’t think that’s the correct way. The community has ownership in this, too,” Kloss said.

But, Mark Staufaker says they now limit their capacity to 150 people to keep a closer eye.  Four weddings have happened there since with no problems.

“The old saying goes if you’re sick stay home,” he said.

The Health Department says one of the guests spent time in the hospital but has since recovered.  A spokesperson also said some guests refused to be tested, so they were not able to track the event as closely as they had hoped

Liz Collin

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