Rodeo-goer tests positive for coronavirus; AG Ellison files enforcement action

People who ignored crowd limits at the North Star Stampede rodeo in Itasca County should get tested for the coronavirus if they’re sick because one spectator was likely contagious with COVID-19.

The rodeo was held in Effie, Minnesota the weekend of July 25 despite executive orders from Gov. Tim Walz requiring masks and strictly limiting crowd sizes. The organizers of the event apparently initially tried to comply with the rules, but gave up and told would-be spectators they wouldn’t infringe on their right to assemble.

Cimarron Pitzen, an administrator of the rodeo’s Facebook page, wrote online that “political agendas” of the state Department of Health and the Attorney General’s office meant the rodeo would be held without spectators. “If people would like to come and protest against this ridiculous government over reach, feel free to do so, I will not stand in the way of peoples (sic) “Right to Assemble,” Pitzen’s July 22 post read.

Jan Malcolm, state health commissioner, said it was important for anyone at the event to watch for symptoms, self-isolate if they’re sick and get tested. Doing so would help limit any possible spread.

“If you attended this event, you should consider yourself potentially exposed,” Malcolm said. “We just want to get the word out, given the number of people at this event.”

Effie is located in Itasca County in northern Minnesota.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison also announced Friday his office had filed an enforcement action against the rodeo’s organizers. Ellison is seeking damages as high as $25,000 per violation as well as other legal remedies.

“Stopping the spread of COVID-19 is everyone’s responsibility,” Ellison said in a statement. “Because we take the health of Minnesota’s people and economy very seriously, we take our responsibility to educate and seek compliance very seriously.”

Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease for the state Department of Health, said it was unclear if the rodeo would have different transmission rates than mass gatherings earlier this summer after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Free testing after those protests found fewer demonstrators than expected contracted the coronavirus.

“We were grateful for what we didn’t see following mass gatherings,” Ehresmann said. “It remains to be seen how we will see transmission play out at this event. It does give us pause and we will continue to monitor the situation.”

Minnesota recorded another 779 coronavirus cases Friday, bringing the state total to 54,463. Another six deaths were also reported, increasing the death toll to 1,600.

Those who died included a person in their late 20s with underlying health conditions and older residents ranging in age from their 70s to their 90s.

Minnesota has now tested 1,024,916 patients samples and 834,354 total patients since local testing began in March. Many of those tests are done through a partnership between the state, the Mayo Clinic, the University of Minnesota and other health care providers.

Leaders of testing efforts at Mayo and the university said they were developing localized versions of coronavirus tests in order to avoid ongoing supply chain shortages. Most tests in Minnesota take about 24 to 48 hours to get results although longer times have been reported.

The state has a cumulative test positivity rate of 5.8 percent, but positive test rates are higher in places with outbreaks including the Twin Cities metro and several rural counties where there’s been spikes in cases at meat processing plants.


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