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Sen. Paul Gazelka admits GOP could have handled COVID outbreak differently

The Senate Majority Leader has been facing calls to resign for failing to inform DFL colleagues and non-partisan staff about positive cases in its Caucus.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka has issued a statement in which he admits the Senate GOP could have handled the communication of the COVID-19 outbreak within its ranks differently.

Gazelka has been under fire since news of positive COVID-19 cases among GOP senators emerged, which followed two in-person events held on Nov. 5: a Caucus meeting and a celebratory dinner party following the recent elections.

The Senate GOP informed its own members of at least one positive case on Tuesday, Nov. 10, but failed to inform senators in the DFL nor non-partisan staff in the Capitol ahead of Thursday's special session.

Four GOP senators to date – including Gazelka – have been confirmed positive with the virus, and it also emerged on Sunday that the GOP had neglected to inform the Lake Elmo Inn & Event Center, which hosted the Nov. 5 dinner party, of the outbreak.

The controversy has prompted outrage among DFL lawmakers, along with a call from Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent for Gazelka to resign.

On Tuesday, Gazelka issued a statement in which he said: "In recent days, there has been media and political criticism of the Senate majority caucus holding its traditional post-election caucus gathering and how we handled the subsequent news that some of us at the event had later tested positive for COVID-19.

"In hindsight, we could have handled the event and our information sharing differently. I will personally apply lessons from this episode to inform future decisions as we prepare for the 2021 legislative session."

It's been reported that the post-election dinner party was attended by between 100 and 150 people, many of whom were not wearing face masks.

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Gazelka has been criticized by DFLers for opposing some of the public health measures implemented by Gov. Tim Walz in response to the pandemic, and prior to the election launched a "Contract to Open Up Minnesota" campaign in which he stated Minnesotans should be trusted to handle their own COVID-19 prevention, rather than having it mandated.

Shortly after the election and the Nov. 5 meeting and party, Gazelka changed the party's tone towards the governor's efforts, not holding a vote to overturn his peacetime emergency powers at the Nov. 12 special session, with Gazelka tweeting that he has "always said COVID-19 is a serious virus."

In his latest statement, Gazelka urged people not to punish the Lake Elmo event center, which has reportedly lost bookings as a result of the outbreak, saying they did "everything right" for COVID-19 including spacing out tables, and having staff wear masks.

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