Mayor disputes claims that COVID-19 survey team was intimidated in Eitzen

The mayor of a town in southeastern Minnesota is disputing allegations that city workers intimidated a survey crew trying to gather COVID-19 testing data.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pulled field crews from Minnesota earlier this week after reports of intimidation in Eitzen. Health officials claim the crew was surrounded and called racial slurs on Sept. 15 and that one of the city employees was armed.

Eitzen Mayor Jeffrey Adamson challenged those claims, saying there was never any aggressive behavior or racial slurs and that none of the employees were armed. He hypothesized that the team mistook a large fire department radio in a holster for a firearm.

"The City of Eitzen in no way supports racism or violence," Adamson wrote in a statement. "We are shocked by the accusations made in news reports released today, and saddened to hear our city is being slandered."

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Dan Huff, the assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health, said the Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response project, or CASPER, suspended operations in Minnesota following reports of several incidents across the state. 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.

Aside from the allegations in Eitzen, 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.

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