ST. PAUL — Several prominent Minnesota Republicans are returning to life as usual days after they greeted a potentially contagious President Donald Trump in Minnesota, despite public health officials' advice to quarantine.
Trump held a tarmac visit to Minneapolis on Wednesday, Sept. 30, and attended a private fundraiser in Shorewood ahead of a campaign rally that evening that drew thousands in Duluth. Early on Friday, Oct. 2, Trump announced via Twitter that both he and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for COVID-19. He was admitted to the Walter Reed Medical Center later that day.
U.S. Senate candidate Jason Lewis on Monday, Oct. 5, said he planned to return to the campaign trail after a negative COVID-19 test. Meanwhile, two GOP state legislative leaders remain in self-quarantine after the interactions with an unmasked Trump.
Lewis said in a statement that he had quarantined for four days and got tested for the virus "out of an overabundance of caution" after his brief interaction with Trump.
"I’m pleased to say that I’ve been feeling fine, received negative tests results this (Monday) morning, and will be returning to the campaign trail," Lewis said.
Additionally, a trio of sitting congressmen from Minnesota over the weekend flew on a commercial flight with other passengers days after their interactions with Trump.
All three of Minnesota's Republican congressmen — U.S. Reps. Jim Hagedorn, Tom Emmer and Pete Stauber — traveled with Trump for last Wednesday's visit in Air Force One from Washington, D.C., to Minnesota, then in a motorcade, then back to Washington. All three said they tested negative for the virus on Friday but did not specify any plans to remain in isolation or get tested again. Stauber on Monday announced that he would postpone a Duluth roundtable event scheduled for this week.
Following reports of the three congressmen taking a commercial Delta flight from Washington back to Minnesota on Friday evening, Oct. 2, a spokesperson for Emmer confirmed the report and said that the three representatives had been cleared to travel by the House's attending physician after testing negative earlier Friday. The spokesperson said Hagedorn, Emmer and Stauber "strictly adhered to (attending physician's) guidance, wearing masks and distancing themselves from others."
The congressmen's decision to travel on a commercial flight within days of a potential COVID-19 exposure drew ire from Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Ken Martin, who said the lawmakers should have quarantined for longer than two days after seeing Trump. He said “millions of Americans have sacrificed so much” during the pandemic, but that the representatives didn’t wait longer to board an airplane illustrates their “stupidity and disregard for the well-being of their fellow passengers.”
Two other Minnesota Republicans had public interactions with the president during his Wednesday visit, as well: Minnesota state Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, as well as Lewis greeted Trump Wednesday afternoon at the Minnesota Air National Guard's base in Minneapolis. None of them wore masks during the interaction, but they were outdoors.
Gazelka and Daudt have tested negative for the virus after their short interaction with Trump, but both have said they plan to continue "limiting activities" and self-isolating, as public health officials warn that it takes time for the virus to incubate and result in a positive test result.
Gazelka announced Monday that he received a negative COVID-19 test result. He took the test Friday morning, shortly after news broke of the president's diagnosis. He said he plans to continue "limiting activities" per his doctor's advice and will take another coronavirus test later this week. A spokesperson said he is not showing any symptoms of respiratory illness.
Daudt also took a test Friday and announced on Saturday that his results returned with negative results. As of Monday morning, a spokesperson said he still has no symptoms and remains in self-isolation. Daudt plans to take another test ahead of the Legislature's upcoming special session.
Following Trump's rally in Duluth, which the local fire department estimated had an attendance of about 3,000 people, the Minnesota Department of Health has advised those rally-goers to get tested for the virus and isolate for 14 days after exposure.
The Minnesota Department of Health on Monday said they'd not yet tracked cases of COVID-19 in Minnesotans that stemmed from those campaign events.
Public health experts have said a person could have the illness but initially test negative for it. They advised getting tested five to seven days after potential exposure and then again at 12 to 14 days following exposure if the initial test is negative.
"A negative test is not a get out of jail free card," Minnesota Department of Health Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said. "If you get tested on day four or five, that's great that you're negative but you still have the entire rest of the incubation period in which you could develop illness and could be infectious and could transmit to someone else."
Forum News Service correspondent Dana Ferguson contributed to this report.