ROCHESTER, Minn. — In wake of the news that President Donald Trump will hold a campaign rally at the Rochester International Airport on Friday, Oct. 30, both Mayo Clinic and Rochester Mayor Kim Norton have voiced their support for state health guidelines, including those limiting crowds to 250 persons.
“Mayo Clinic supports the state of Minnesota's COVID-19 guidelines, which were put in place to help limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect the public's health," the clinic said in a statement. "Preventive measures such as masking, good hand hygiene and social distancing are essential steps to stop the spread of the virus, protect our communities and our neighbors. Community members who choose to attend a large event that exceeds recommended guidelines should contact their healthcare provider and be evaluated for possible COVID-19 testing.”
"We expect them to follow the state guidelines," said Norton.
The mayor adds that she has communicated these expectations with airport executive director John Reed, having developed them through communications with the city administrator, police chief and city attorney. Norton said she had been in discussion with the Minnesota Department of Health and the state Attorney General's Office about the question Wednesday afternoon.
Campaign events are expected to adhere to state guidelines for gathering, masking and distancing. Keeping people safe from covid is vital during this time of increased spread & it is paramount that we protect our healthcare workers and community. #beresponsible— Kim Norton (@MayorNorton) October 28, 2020
"We are sending a message as a city," Norton said. "We're on the same page. Our message is, we follow the state guidelines and we expect the campaign when it's here to do the same thing. We know they've been told that before and haven't followed the guidelines."
Norton said it is her hope that elderly individuals or those with health conditions avoid the gathering altogether and watch it on television.
Airport officials did not return a request for comment from Forum News Service.
Should airport officials heed the wishes of the town's largest employer and city administration, it would be a first for the state. There have now been over six Trump campaign events in Minnesota, and every one of them has exceeded health guidelines for crowd sizes, each time without repercussion in the form of penalties or measures on-site by local law enforcement to limit the inflow.
"I have mentioned that very thing," Norton said to the question of why the city doesn't simply limit attendance to the rally the way it would to any public event that has exceeded its limits. "I have said that we have control over who comes in and who leaves the airport, because there's a driveway you pull into to enter. There are also county roads, and people can obviously park and walk. [But] I've made that exact point to our city administration, the police chief, the attorney and John Reed, that there is a limit."
Norton conceded it was unusual to take such a position because normally cities are eager to host presidential campaign visits, but that "this year ... with the pandemic hanging over the world, a gathering and a rally takes on a whole different meaning.
"As a person who worries about the residents of the community, for me, the excitement of having a candidate come to town is overshadowed by the concern I have for the residents that live here once that candidate leaves."
"This is the type of event that brings people in from states and other cities," she said. "That heightens our level of concern. So we really do want them to follow the guidelines and protect our community."
Trump rallies are associated with a rise in new cases, both nationally and in Minnesota. As of last Friday, there were 28 known cases and two hospitalizations tied to Trump rallies in the state, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. (Four were tied to a counterprotest.)
As the home of the Mayo Clinic, Rochester is arguably extra-vulnerable to the effects of spreader events, given its status as a town filled with thousands of health care workers and thousands more hospitalized people with underlying health conditions.
The state has taken a hands-off approach to Trump campaign defiance of its health orders, however, issuing no penalties to organizers or even strongly worded statements of disapproval. That changed on Monday, when Gov. Tim Walz said , "these large rallies that are unmasked with elected officials going, I just have to be candid, they are incredibly unhelpful. ... If you need to hear them speak, just Google it. Watch it on your phone, and let's get through this."
Asked to comment on the challenge of promoting a health message that is routinely violated by a national political campaign, State Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm reiterated on Wednesday a familiar set of MDH talking points — that it has placed added consideration on the value of political campaigning, and that it has made itself available to organizers should they decide to heed the wishes of public health officials.
"Outdoors is safer than being indoors," said Malcolm. "But if you're in a packed crowd without masks, outdoors is no guarantee of safety."
The state of Minnesota reported an additional 1,916 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, Oct. 28, the 21st straight day in excess of 1,000 cases and a day in which another 989 Americans were recorded as having died from the illness. The nationwide loss of life has surpassed 226,000. Statewide, 2,387 deaths have been recorded.
The state added 37 new hospitalizations Wednesday — a one-day record — bringing the total now hospitalized to 643 patients.
The state reported another 19 deaths on Wednesday, all but five being residents of Greater Minnesota. Health officials said that one of the recent deaths had likely contracted the illness at a wedding with an outdoor ceremony and indoor reception, an event associated with outbreaks.
"We share this information not to shame people," Malcolm said. "But to alert people that the risk is real in social settings."
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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.