Former state Sen. Scott Jensen, a family physician who has risen to prominence as a COVID skeptic over the past 12 months, is running for governor in Minnesota.
Jensen, a Republican who formerly represented Senate District 47 covering much of Carver County, announced his bid to run against Gov. Tim Walz in an embargoed release that was obtained by the Minnesota Reformer.
He said he will "elevate thoughtful discourse, engage in difficult conversations, and will not allow pandering groupthink to impede the vital contributions science can provide."
He was immediately criticized by the Minnesota DFL, which issued a statement that described him as a "COVID-19 conspiracy theorist" who has downplayed the deadly pandemic.
Jensen didn't run for re-election this past election as rumors grew that he was planning a gubernatorial run, and he has become an increasingly regular presence on right-wing news shows as he railed against COVID-19 guidance and the reported severity of the pandemic.
He announced in 2019 that he wouldn't run for re-election to the Senate after a term in which he was among the more bipartisan legislators, working across the aisle with Democrats on measures including gun control bills, and coming out in favor of recreational marijuana legalization.
But Jensen, the president of Catalyst Medical Center in Watertown, presented himself early on in the pandemic as a skeptic of the severity of COVID-19 and the measures being taken to limit its spread.
This included an appearance on a North Dakota radio show last April in which the false claim was made that Minnesota was exaggerating its COVID-19 death figures, with Jensen claiming the CDC was telling doctors to list COVID-19 as the cause of death when it's suspected, but not confirmed by a positive test.
This was misleading, as the CDC actually told doctors was that it "would be acceptable" to list COVID-19 on a death certificate as "probable" or "presumed" in the absence of a positive test if "the circumstances are compelling within a reasonable degree of certainty," but ultimately it would leave it up to doctors, physicians assistants and RNs filling out death certificates to "use their best clinical judgement in determining if a COVID–19 infection was likely."
He told Fox News this was happening because "fear is a great way to control people," even though the CDC was then under the control of Republican president Donald Trump, and suggested doctors and hospitals were claiming deaths as from COVID to increase their reimbursements from public health funds.
He later claimed he was under investigation by the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice for spreading COVID misinformation that included comparing it with the flu, and claimed the investigation was later dropped. The investigation has not been confirmed by the board, however, saying it only releases comments when disciplinary or corrective action is taken.
Jensen also featured in the widely debunked movie "Pandemic" in which he criticized the CDC's guidelines for social distancing, and more recently he railed against the governor's shutdown of bars in November and December as Minnesota was dealing with its worst COVID peak yet, he has released videos on TikTok criticizing advice on, among other things, double masking.
And in October, as the world's pharma companies were engaged in the final trials for their COVID-19 vaccines, he appeared alongside notable anti-vaxxers such as Andrew Wakefield and Sheila Ealey at a 2020 Vaccine Awareness Event held in Alexandria, as reported by Bluestem Prairie.
On Tuesday, he expressed disbelief in a new video that the Minnesota Department of Health reported 140 deaths from COVID-19 in a single day, saying: "Were these deaths that haven't been reported previously? Is this a death data dump? The Department of Health has an obligation to be transparent." Saying he called different people asking "if they've received any explanation ... none."
But the Minnesota Department of Health did issue an explanation of why the numbers were so high. They did it instantly, and it was widely reported by Minnesota media, explaining that the deaths were previously unreported to MDH by private labs, which they say was a violation of a state rule and under investigation.