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Small town mayor, sheriff respond to MDH's allegation of racism, intimidation

Eitzen is a town of 250 residents.
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The mayor of a small town in far southeastern Minnesota is challenging the Minnesota Department of Health's (MDH) claims of a racism and intimidation of public health teams that were recently conducting a COVID-19 survey. 

Jeffrey Adamson, the mayor of Eitzen, said "we are shocked by accusations" and "saddened to hear our city is being slandered." 

Adamson was referring to the MDH announcing Friday that its COVID-19 survey was being halted due to alleged incidences of racism and intimidation, including on Sept. 15 in Eitzen, where, according to MDH Assistant Commissioner Dan Huff, "a team was surrounded by three men who refused to accept their identification as public health workers."

Huff said "one of the men was armed and the workers felt that the intention of the men was to intimidate them, racial epithets were used by the men."

Adamson, in response, issued a statement to "retell the actual events" of Sept. 15, saying the situation was handled "professionally, courteously, and unbiased with no racial slurs, threats or inappropriate comments made." He wrote:  

"In the early evening of September 15, a concerned citizen notified a city official of three people driving an unmarked vehicle with California state license plates. The team of people were going door to door claiming to be conducting a covid-19 survey and tests. The city was not notified prior to the team's arrival, and we felt there was a need to follow up on the situation. A city official and two other residents met the covid-19 team to verify their identification. Two vehicles driven by the city official and residents were parked on either side of the Covid-19 team's vehicle, but it was never blocked."

At that point, Adamson said the city official was provided identification from the team. However, "out of an abundance of caution," they contacted the Houston County Sheriff's Office, who confirmed the Department of Health's presence while noting that their vehicle should've been marked, according to Adamson. 

"We would like to make it clear that there was never a gun or any weapon present and no threats or aggressive behavior occurred during the interaction," Adamson said. "We can only assume that the team misinterpreted a large fire department communication radio in a holster for a firearm." 

"In a very small town where everyone knows everyone, a group of unfamiliar people with out of state plates is unusual, and to some residents is cause for concern," he added. 

The statement from the MDH noted that there were "several other incidents" where health workers attempting to survey people in other Minnesota locations were yelled at, threatened or followed and videotaped, adding that "people of color were reporting more incidents than teams that did not include people of color."

Overall, the alleged Eitzen incident wasn't solely responsible for the CDC, which was participating in the research, pulling its staff from the road, effectively stopping the survey in its tracks. 

The Houston County Sheriff's Office says it "cannot confirm or deny the allegations" made by the state health department due to "little additional information at this point other than what has been reported by the news media apparently through MDH."

Bring Me The News reported on the allegations Friday, with all information used in the report supplied by the Minnesota Department of Health, which had previously announced a "misunderstanding" at an unidentified Minnesota location where a survey team was "confronted by armed individuals." 

The Houston County Sheriff's Office said it has requested additional information from the MDH. 

"Obviously the allegations are concerning and wish the surveyors would have immediately reported the incident to law enforcement," the sheriff's office said. 

The survey, known as the Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER) survey, was set to run through the end of September with a goal of learning more about the spread of COVID-19 in certain communities, in addition to offering free diagnostic or antibody tests to residents. 

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