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Eitzen responds to alleged intimidation of COVID-19 survey workers

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Eitzen statement

EITZEN, Minn. (KTTC) -- It was a study with the goal of determining how coronavirus spreads through Minnesota. State and federal public health team members were visiting 180 pre-selected sites, conducting surveys and offering COVID-19 tests to households.

The CASPER survey was cut short due to reports of intimidating behavior by Minnesota residents who encountered team members from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). Not only did these occurrences intimidate team members, but also resulted in what would have been crucial information about the virus being lost.

"We cannot tolerate people being threatened. We cannot tolerate people having racial slurs brought against them," said Keith Stetler, president of the Minnesota Medical Association. "They're trying to help communities across the state."

The CDC and MDH survey teams had to be pulled before the targeted finish date of Sept. 30.

"In short, the CDC determined the reception these teams were getting in communities was too often hostile," said MDH Assistant Commissioner Daniel Huff. "In particular, people of color on these teams reported being subjected to racial slurs."

One alleged incident on the 15th in the Houston County town of Eitzen was particularly concerning.

"A team of two CDC employees and a contract nurse were walking up to a nurse when two cars pulled up and boxed in the team's car," Huff said. "Three men then got out. One had a holstered gun with his hand on it. The team felt the intent was to intimidate and scare them."

Houston County residents told a different story on WXOW's Facebook page. Despite some disputed details about the incident, the study has been halted and cost the team some valuable research.

"People were being offered antibody tests so they would know if they were previously infected and recovered," Stetler. "That was a crucial bit of information that could have helped us in rural Minnesota to know what we need to do in coming months to control the spread of this."

The City of Eitzen released a statement Friday night regarding the incident.

The City of Eitzen in no way supports racism or violence. We are shocked by the accusations made in news reports released today, and saddened to hear our city is being slandered. We would like to retell the actual events that occurred in Eitzen on September 15:

In the early evening of September 15, a concerned citizen notified a city official of three people driving an unmarked vehicle with California state license plates. The team of people were going door to door claiming to be conducting a covid-19 survey and tests. The city was not notified prior to the team’s arrival, and we felt there was a need to follow up on the situation. A city official and two other residents met the covid-19 team to verify their identification. Two vehicles driven by the city official and residents were parked on either side of the Covid-19 team’s vehicle, but it was never blocked. The city official asked the Covid-19 team for identification, which was presented. Out of an abundance of caution, the Houston County Sheriff’s Department was also contacted to verify the team’s presence in the city. The Sheriff’s department did state that the vehicle was supposed to be marked, but they confirmed the team was part of the Department of Health. After properly identifying the team, they were left to continue conducting their research within the city. We would like to make it clear there was never a gun or any weapon present and no threats or aggressive behavior occurred during the interaction between the city members and the covid-19 team. We can only assume that the team misinterpreted a large fire department communication radio in a holster for a firearm.

The safety and welfare of our citizens is our number one priority. We strive to quickly respond to any situation where citizens feel there is reason for concern. In a very small town where everyone knows everyone, a group of unfamiliar people with out of state plates is unusual, and to some residents is cause for concern. This situation was handled professionally, courteously, and unbiased with no racial slurs, threats or inappropriate comments made. We have and will continue to be open and honest with law enforcement agencies investigating this situation. The only contact made to law enforcement during the alleged confrontation was made by the city official while the covid-19 team was present.

Jeffrey Adamson, Eitzen City Mayor

The Houston County Sheriff's office released this statement about the incident Friday afternoon:

It has come to our attention that there are news reports of an incident that occurred last week in Eitzen regarding a confrontation with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) surveyors that were conducting COVID 19 surveys and volunteer testing.

The Houston County Sheriff’s Office is now aware that allegations have been made, but at this point cannot confirm or deny the allegations. Unfortunately, we have little additional information at this point other than what has been reported by the news media apparently through MDH. We have requested additional information from MDH but have not yet received the requested information.

While we have spoken with MDH personnel, the alleged victims have not contacted our office and at this point we are aware of their identities and have not spoken with them directly.

Obviously the allegations are concerning and wish the surveyors would have immediately reported the incident to law enforcement.

Houston County Sheriff's Office

Alex Tejada

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