Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has announced his office has launched enforcement action against a northern Minnesota rodeo that defied statewide limits on large gatherings in response to COVID-19.
The AG said the action has been brought against North Star Ranch in Effie, Itasca County after it hosted the North Star Stampede rode between July 24 and 26.
The organizers had said that it wouldn't be allowing spectators due to the statewide ban on large gatherings above 250 people, but said nobody would be turned away if people attended to "protest ... government overreach."
Thousands of people attended as a result, and on Friday the Minnesota Department of Health says it's confirmed that one person among those in attendance tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, July 27, and as a result was infectious at the rodeo.
Health officials have asked anyone who went to the rodeo to monitor their own symptoms as they may have been exposed, and isolate as much as they can for 14 days.
The AG's office said Friday it had spoke with the North Star Ranch owner on July 22 to ensure the event would abide by the COVID-19 restrictions, and said the owner "became agitated and hung up the phone."
The owner then posted on Facebook: "The North Star Stampede will take place with no spectators. If people would like to come and protest against this ridiculous Government Over Reach, feel free to do so, I will not stand in the way of peoples ‘Right to Assemble.’"
Ellison's office says that as well as allowing big crowds to watch the rodeo from the bleachers – with images showing few if any were wearing face masks – the rodeo also accepted donations and sold programs to attendees.
Itasca County has had 125 positive COVID-19 cases since the outbreak of the pandemic, of which 12 have resulted in death.
Attorney General Ellison said. “My office has been working successfully for months with businesses and events across Minnesota to help them understand the law and the Governor's executive orders so that they can operate responsibly and keep Minnesotans safe during this pandemic.
"In most cases, we’ve reached agreement that leads to voluntary compliance. Because we take the health of Minnesota's people and economy very seriously, we take our responsibility to educate and seek compliance very seriously."
He added: "Stopping the spread of COVID-19 is everyone's responsibility. It's in all Minnesotans' interest for businesses and events to comply with the law and the Governor’s executive orders so that we can protect ourselves, our loved ones, our communities, and our livelihoods."
Ellison is seeking damages and $25,000 in civil penalties for each of the several violations in his office's complaint.