Minnesota health officials expressed renewed concern Monday over a confrontation Sept. 14 between a team of coronavirus testers and three men — one of whom was armed.
“I’m sorry to say it did happen and was very much of concern to us,” Jan Malcolm, health commissioner, said Monday. “We certainly want to be sure, number one, that we do a good job of letting the community know what we are doing, why we are doing it and why this study is important.”
The team was out asking randomly chosen households to submit to coronavirus testing as part of a statewide survey in partnership with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The aim of the study is to learn more about how the disease spreads in 180 communities that were picked because of their population characteristics.
Despite wanting to publicize the existence of the survey, state Department of Health officials have repeatedly declined to identify the community where the confrontation occurred. Pushed for more specifics Monday a health department spokesman said a police report was not filed about the incident.
“There is no intended secrecy here, but rather a desire to not let this unfortunate incident overshadow the work being done in so many communities without incident,” Doug Schultz, a state Department of Health spokesman said in an email. “Our rationale for not wanting to provide location is: 1. It was likely a misunderstanding and could have happened anywhere and 2. not wanting to embarrass or draw undue attention to that community.”
Health officials did notify the state Department of Public Safety who sent an email about the incident to police and sheriff departments around the state. The message describing a testing team being “confronted by a group of armed citizens while out in a neighborhood” ended up on the social media pages of at least two police departments in the Twin Cities metro.
State and federal health workers performing the random testing are wearing protective gear and have credentials identifying them as part of the study. Malcolm added that additional steps were being taken to ensure their safety.
Dan Huff, assistant health commissioner, said the survey team left the community immediately after the confrontation and notified their supervisors. He acknowledge the incident was concerning and thanked the survey teams for their ongoing work.
“Public health practitioners are used to working in the community. We do that work everyday,” Huff said. “We believe strongly in our connection to the community, but we are concerned. We understand this a time of anxiety and that anxiety can bring fear.”
“But it is really important to remember, everyone who is engaged in this response is doing so to protect the health and lives of as many people in Minnesota as possible,” Huff added. “I’m so thankful for every public health employee in the state and the federal partners who are working with us. This is difficult work.”