“We have not identified anyone who has tested positive who attended the events,” said director of infectious disease Kris Ehresmann during an afternoon press call on Monday, Oct. 5.
“As you know our teams are always looking for clusters of cases from a group setting. Our awareness is heightened because of the situation with the presidential visit, and we have not identified any cases or potential exposures.”
The spotlight is on the Shorewood and Duluth events because the president tested positive for the virus the day following his visit, meaning he would have been infectious during all contacts with people in Minnesota. As such, the state health office would conceivably be required to follow up with any individuals who came into close contact with the president during his time in the state.
Close contact is described as either a cumulative 15 minutes or consecutive 10 minutes within 6 feet of someone who is confirmed to be positive. The White House has not made contact with the state health department, effectively leaving health officials in the position of watching for case reports that lead to mention of attendance at either event.
As of Monday, cases continued to soar in the Duluth region, with 48 new cases in St. Louis County. Trump spoke at a significant distance from the crowd in Duluth, however, although it flouted the health guidance restriction that all events should remain below 250 persons.
At the Duluth event, 3,000 mostly un-masked attendees sat in close proximity at the outdoor rally.
Ehresmann said attendees of the fund-raiser in Shorewood so far have described not being able to get close to the president. While the 40 donors who paid from $100,000 to $200,000 to attend the 90-minute event in a private home were allowed to stand 8 to 10 feet from the president for a photograph, handshakes were not allowed.
Since Trump was diagnosed, an additional 30 people connected to the Trump cluster have come down with the virus, including journalists, workers at the Sept. 29 presidential debate, and close advisors.
“Certainly the individuals who attended the (fundraiser) need to evaluate their experience where were they in the crowd,” Ehresmann said. “If you were in the far back corner of the room and you wish you had binoculars to see the president, you can use your judgment. We know the president was infectious, so people should be evaluating where they were in the room.”
The caterer, Murray’s Steakhouse of Minneapolis, has ordered all of its employees to quarantine for 14 days, despite none of its employees coming in close contact with the president, according to a report in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
The health department’s decision to downplay the likelihood of transmission at the closely-seated indoor fundraiser is in stark contrast to an earlier statement on Monday, one acknowledging the role of so-called aerosol transmission in spreading the virus.
The CDC on Monday added the risk of contracting the virus from being in a room where an infected person has spent time, if the stay was long and the airflow is poor. The health department said it welcomes the change, but have long treated confined exposure indoors as problematic even outside of 6 feet.
“I think for some time we have been following the literature that we understand aerosol transmission was a potential factor,” said Ehresmann. “We think it’s appropriate for the CDC to update its guidance.”
“The circumstances in which we saw this transmission being more of a problem,” she added, “was in enclosed spaces with inadequate ventilation and crowding, and those are some of the same messages we have continued to put out.”
“Any time you are indoors with a lot of people and don’t have the opportunity to be distanced and have poor ventilation that is sort of a recipe for problems with COVID.”
The attendees at the Shorewood fundraiser, like the Washington, D.C., gathering at the White House reception for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, were under the mistaken notion that passing a COVID-19 test immediately prior to entering an event, rendered a person safe for extended, maskless, close contact with others.
In reality, people generally will not test positive until five to seven days after being infected, meaning a person could pass a test and still be infected and contagious.
Voting by mail
Also on Monday, health officials advised residents to consider voting by mail if they hoped to minimize their exposure to COVID-19.
“This is a great time during a pandemic for folks to be well aware of all the ways there are to vote in your area,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm, “including early voting for mail-in or ballot drop off boxes..”
“In general,” Malcolm added, “we would compare the risk of voting in person to going to the grocery store,” Malcolm added. “While many of us are comfortable doing that, we know others may want to consider other options.”
Malcolm said other tips for safer voting include bringing your own black pen or stylus for touch-screen voting machines, voting on off-peak times such as mid-morning, and staying home if you are sick on Election Day, Nov. 3.
The need to stay home on voting day should a person become sick, “might be another consideration if you’re thinking about possibly voting in advance,” Malcolm said.
By the numbers
Brainerd and Albert Lea senior high schools both have five or more cases of COVID-19, a threshold classified as an outbreak, according to the latest numbers posted on the Department of Health website.
So do Isanti Middle School and Hinckley Elementary in Pine County, as well as three schools in Martin County: Fairmont Junior and Senior High School, Martin Luther High School and St. Paul Lutheran.
Minnesota reported an additional 982 cases of coronavirus on Monday, on the addition of 23,061 tests. The new cases almost match the 1,048 reported Sunday, and add to the record-breaking 100,000-plus case total in the state established Saturday. There are now 104,799 cases total in the state.
Minnesota reported three deaths from COVID-19 Monday, as well. These include two in Ramsey County and one in McLeod County. The total number of residents killed by the virus is now 2,083.
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- Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
- COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
- Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.