Racist Incidents Prompt Suspension of MN COVID Survey
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota officials have stopped a COVID-19 testing study after multiple reports that state and federal public health workers were greeted by racial and ethnic slurs as they went door-to-door.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pulled federal surveyors out of Minnesota this week after they experienced verbal abuse and intimidation. In Eitzen, along the Iowa border, one survey team was boxed in by two cars and threatened by three men, including one with a gun.
“The team felt the intent was clearly to intimidate and scare them,” said Stephanie Yendell, who supervised Minnesota’s role in the survey. “Unfortunately that wasn’t the only incident.”
Dr. Ruth Lynfield, state epidemiologist, said frustration with the state’s response to the pandemic is understandable, but “there is no justification for this — the enemy is the virus and not the public health workers who are trying to help.”
The survey teams were going to 180 neighborhoods this month to offer free testing for COVID-19 and for antibodies, and to try to understand how the virus was spreading, particularly among people with no known symptoms.
Yendell said the teams that included people of color reported more incidents than teams with only white people. “We had a Latina team member who said she’d been called a particular epithet more times in the last week than in her entire life,” she said.
Incidents occurred mostly in central and southern Minnesota — rural areas where there has been more resentment over COVID-19 restrictions.
Before the work stopped, testers collected samples from about 400 residents statewide. Those tests will be processed and analyzed, but won’t provide a complete picture of coronavirus transmission.
Minnesota was downgraded Friday to the “uncontrolled spread” category by a website that tracks each state’s progress toward stopping the spread of COVID-19.
Friday’s rating switch by the COVID-19 Exit Strategy website was based on a more than 25% increase in infections in Minnesota in the most recent 14 days for which it had data, the Star Tribune reported. Neighboring Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota have been at that lowest rating for weeks.
Minnesota has reported 1,994 COVID-19 deaths and 94,189 confirmed cases of the coronavirus since March. The totals include 1,191 new cases as of Friday, and six new deaths. New infections were reported Friday in 78 of the state’s 87 counties.