COVID-19 survey ended in Minnesota after health officials face confrontations, racial slurs

A survey focusing on COVID-19 has ended in Minnesota after multiple survey teams were confronted by residents in towns across the state, according to Dan Huff, an assistant commissioner with the Minnesota Department of Health.

Huff said the incidents led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to withdraw teams from the Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER) project. The CASPER surveys were meant to build a better understanding of how COVID-19 is spreading in the state and how it is affecting its residents.

According to Huff, CASPER teams with people of color were subjected to racial slurs while in the field.

MDH: Armed residents confront COVID-19 testing team in Minnesota neighborhood

Huff also reported an incident in Eitzen on Sept. 15 where a CASPER team was surrounded by three men, one of whom was armed. During the incident, the three men refused to accept their identification as public health workers.

CASPER teams also reported incidents where people walking dogs or neighborhood residents would question teams, or yell at them and threaten to call the police.

According to Huff, a pattern showed that teams with people of color were reporting more incidents than teams that did not have people of color.

"We know people are hurting and frustrated. We also know some people disagree with various government policies and approaches, but there is a difference between disagreeing with a policy and taking out frustrations on a public health worker who is trying to do their job and help the community as best they can," Huff said. "And no matter how frustrated someone may be, we must draw a clear line at expressions of racism against and intimidation of workers who happen to be people of color. The Minnesota Department of Health stands against racism in its many forms, whether that be individual acts or structural racism, a root cause of health inequities."

President Keith Stelter, MD, issued the following statement regarding the report:

"On behalf of Minnesota physicians, the Minnesota Medical Association is greatly disturbed about recent events that have occurred as we try to control the COVID-19 pandemic in Minnesota. Specifically, we are outraged over reports of door-to-door testers in greater Minnesota being met with intimidating racial and ethnic slurs to the point the CDC has decided to withdraw staff in the state and ended its efforts to better understand the scope and impact of this virus. In addition, we are extremely concerned to hear that Minnesota has been downgraded to “uncontrolled spread” rating by the COVID Exit Strategy website, an expert-led, non-partisan resource. We cannot overstate the severity of this virus and Minnesotans must recognize that the target of our frustration and outrage must be the virus, not the public health experts, clinicians and others working to stop it. We urge all Minnesotans to continue to practice good health. Do your part by wearing a mask that covers your nose and mouth when you’re in any public space, stay six feet apart, wash your hands regularly, and limit gathering in groups."