MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Members of the Minnesota DFL are criticizing the Senate GOP for not notifying them about a COVID-19 outbreak within their party before Thursday’s special session. The Senate GOP has confirmed that Sen. David Senjem and Sen. Paul Anderson have contracted the virus.
However, according to the DFL, though Republican senators and staff members were instructed to stay home, they did not notify their Democratic counterparts to do the same.
“The virus doesn’t operate along party lines, and so neither can we,” said Gov. Tim Walz. “Each of us has a personal responsibility to take steps to slow the spread. And if we know of a positive case, we have a moral obligation to share that information with others so that they can protect themselves and their families.”
I do not understand why Senate Republicans chose to share positive cases only with members of their own party, putting staff and other senators at risk. We must put aside our differences and look out for our neighbors. At the end of the day, we‘re all Minnesotans.
— Governor Tim Walz (@GovTimWalz) November 14, 2020
The GOP has said that masks were worn during the special session, and members from both caucuses used remote voting to participate.
“No one from the Republican Caucus in attendance posed a risk to spread covid,” they said in a statement.
Thursday’s special session was the first time since March that the Republican-controlled senate did not vote on ending Walz’s emergency powers. That day, COVID case numbers in the state broke records with 7,228 new infections, though that record was broken again two days later.
“Minnesota Senate Republicans’ decision to cover up a COVID-19 outbreak within their ranks immediately before a special legislative session is a genuinely stunning failure of basic human decency that could land people in the hospital or worse,” said Minnesota DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin.
“It shouldn’t be up to one party to decide the health and safety of others and I am extremely disappointed in the senate republican majority’s failure to lead by example as Minnesotans across the state are coming together to stop the spread of this virus,” said Senate DFL Leader Susan Kent.
Doug Schultz with the Minnesota Department of Health says for individuals, there’s no legal requirement to inform others of a positive COVID-19 test or possible exposure to the disease.
“But certainly it’s a good public health practice, and I think it’s a matter of common courtesy,” he said.
The GOP says it shared the news of the positive tests with other GOP senators who’d been in a meeting with the senators who tested positive, as well as GOP staffers.
“They’re just saying, ‘Nope we’re good, trust us,'” Kent told WCCO Saturday. “And I’m sorry, when we find this out in this way, it’s really hard to establish trust.”
Twelve Republicans attended the bipartisan special session a week after the meeting with the senators who tested positive.
A GOP spokesperson says none of them had symptoms or close contact with the two senators.
Schultz says this means no MDH quarantine guidelines were violated, but he encourages caution after any kind of contact with someone who’s tested positive.
“The more you can make people aware of your situation, the safer we’ll all be,” Schultz said.
In a workplace, MDH guidelines say the boss has to notify the staff of an employee’s positive test.
Kent sees GOP Majority Leader Paul Gazelka as the “boss” of the Senate, and says it was his responsibility to tell everyone, including nonpartisan employees.
Gazelka couldn’t immediately be reached for an interview, but wrote in part in a tweet Saturday, “We followed MDH and CDC recommendations for social distancing, masks, and limiting time together during session…It’s time to stop blaming us and politicizing this, and work together to keep Minnesotans safe.”
On Tuesday, Walz announced new restrictions to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Bars and restaurants must close dine-in service between 10 a.m. and 4 a.m., and social gatherings are limited to 10 people or less. He also encouraged anyone in the 18- to 35-year-old age range to get tested for the virus, especially if they are going to travel during the Thanksgiving holiday.
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