ROCHESTER, Minn. — Both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden have plans to visit Minnesota Friday, Sept. 18, and state health officials say they likely will monitor the two campaign events for their adherence to state COVID-19 guidelines.
Trump will visit an airfield in Bemidji; Biden's plans have not yet been released.
"I'm not aware of any conversations between the (state) health department and the campaigns," Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said during a Wednesday, Sept. 16, call with the media. "Other than just that, we're certainly available to answer questions if they have any."
Later, Malcolm addressed a question as to whether the state had plans for overseeing adherence to COVID-19 crowd limitation guidance at the Bemidji event.
"We work with local public health colleagues around the state," Malcolm said. "Certainly our colleagues up there are well aware of the event, and may be having conversations that I'm not aware of with event organizers up there."
Tuesday, Gov. Tim Walz released a letter he sent to the candidates asking that they respect the state's public health advisories regarding crowd sizes, guidelines which limit outdoor events to 250 persons.
“While we welcome the opportunity for Minnesotans to participate in democracy," Walz wrote, "we ask that your events comply with our state’s COVID-19 safety guidelines. Partner with us in the fight against COVID-19.”
"He thought it was important to make that statement and make sure that the campaigns knew what the capacity guidance was in Minnesota — and that it's our strong hope and expectation that that be respected," Malcolm said.
Malcolm said no consequences were planned at this time should the campaigns fail to follow the guidelines. "I would need to defer any question on enforcement action to other authorities," she said.
At this point, the Biden campaign has avoided scheduling large gatherings, while the Trump campaign has flouted the recommendation to avoid crowds and indoor events.
The host of a suburban Las Vegas warehouse was fined $3,000 Monday for an event in which Trump drew thousands of spectators indoors. Upon issuing the fine a city spokesperson said the host had been warned of the state's restrictions prior to the event.
State health officials Wednesday reacted to reports that the Big Ten is resuming football this fall, and that the Minnesota State High School League was leaning toward resuming football and volleyball later in the fall.
"We've appreciated the high school league's careful thinking and attention to this," Malcolm said. "They've asked for input along the way, and we've shared with them the data we have on the effects of sports on transmission. In general, we're always concerned about things that increase close contact of large numbers of people, given the degree of virus that's circulating in the community.
"We continue to say that outdoor venues and outdoor sports appear to be less risky as sports go, but high-contact sports just do have a risk," she added. "Of course, we're concerned not just about the sports, but about the socialization that comes along with that. If indeed we start to see more of these athletic events, it's going to be extra important that everyone is aware of the risk, and complies with social distancing and mask guidance."
"Right now our data show 1,452 cases associated with youth sports and 888 more in adults," said state director of infectious disease Kris Ehresmann. "That's 3,348 people recommended to be quarantined as a result of these cases." Ehresmann said the state has had 62 outbreaks related to sports, with 15 due to basketball, nine due to soccer, nine due to football, and six traceable to volleyball.
"This is not a cold," said state epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield. "There are some people who do fine with this, but there are others including young people who don't do fine. There are coaches and other people who may have underlying conditions and would have a severe illness if infected. We're only beginning to learn about the complications of this long-term ... We just have to be aware of that."
By the numbers
Minnesota reported an additional 513 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, Sept. 16. The new cases bring the laboratory-confirmed case total in the state to 85,813.
The cases were spread widely across the state, including 20 cases each in Stearns and Winona counties, and 30 cases in St. Louis County.
The state Wednesday also reported an additional seven deaths from the illness. The deceased include single deaths each in Anoka, Nobles and Winona counties, and two deaths each in Hennepin and Ramsey counties. Three of the seven deaths were among residents of long-term care. The statewide death total is at 1,933, and appears likely to surpass 2,000 deaths by October.
Health officials reported an additional 9,910 tests on Wednesday.
There are 244 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state, 136 in an ICU setting.
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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.