ROCHESTER, Minn. — State health officials on Friday, Sept. 11, declined to criticize the likelihood that approaching visits by the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates next week will almost certainly violate the executive orders limiting crowd sizes.
President Donald Trump is scheduled to visit the tarmac of an airfield in Bemidji on Sept. 18, while former Vice President Joe Biden is slated to visit Minnesota on the same day, although the details of his visit are not finalized.
Political rallies traditionally include loud cheering, members of the public shuffling in line alongside strangers, and crowds standing in cordoned-off viewing areas for hours on end — seemingly a recipe for viral spread of the sort experienced at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota last month.
Trump has hosted rallies for large crowds both indoors and outdoors that eschew masks, and recently drew a closely clustered crowd in excess of 250 for a visit to Mankato.
Biden's indoor visits have thus far observed social distancing and crowd restrictions, but he has walked into crowds wearing a mask.
"We don’t have an official position on political rallies," said Julie Bartkey, spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Health. "We do have a variety of recommendations, including parades, indoor and outdoor events."
MDH referred the question to their web page titled "Guidance for Safe Celebrations and Events."
The page describes the "controlling guidance" and "capacity requirements" for "event planners, venue managers and owners, catering companies, and others who may be involved in the planning and coordination of celebrations and events."
It described the limiting of events "in indoor or outdoor venues, including but not limited to, rental space in event centers, fellowship halls and gathering spaces in faith- based buildings, community centers, halls, or outdoor event spaces."
"In event spaces and venues," the document reads, "limit indoor and outdoor occupant capacity to no more than 25% up to 250 persons, so long as social distancing can be maintained."
How does this allow a political event with more than 250 persons in a cordoned-off area?
"We rely on our partners hosting such events to adhere to the requirements," said Bartkey, who added that the health department "doesn’t have enforcement responsibility of the mask mandate over individuals."
The health department hasn't taken an honor-system like approach to the bars and restaurants that flagrantly violate capacity limits, however. It has launched surprise inspections over the past two weekends, and promises more than reminders if violations persist, actions ranging from license revocations, to fines, to closure.
In other news on Friday, the state of Minnesota reported an additional 484 cases of COVID-19. The new cases bring the laboratory-confirmed case total to 82,716.
The state also reported an additional 13 deaths from COVID-19, eight of those residents of congregate living. The number of Minnesotans to die from the illness has now reached 1,897.
So far, 1,427 residents have been treated in an ICU for COVID-19, with 387 ICU deaths. Deaths from COVID-19 have also occurred in long-term care, non-ICU hospitalization and private residences.
One death each was reported in Blue Earth and Kandiyohi counties; two deaths each in Anoka and Nobles counties; three deaths among residents of Ramsey County, and four among residents of Hennepin County. The ages of the deceased ranged from their 60s through their 90s.
Testing shot up again, more than doubling to 17,841 for the day.
The number of residents hospitalized with the virus is now 253, with 139 in an ICU setting.
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- COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
- Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.