An incident in Eitzen, Minn., that contributed to the CDC's withdrawal of federal public health surveyors from Minnesota didn't involve racial slurs or a weapon, according to the mayor of the Iowa border town.
Mayor Jeffrey Adamson confirmed in a written statement that the incident occurred on Sept. 15 but disagreed with the depiction that surveyors had been boxed in by two cars and accosted by three men, including one with a holstered gun. He said a large radio may have been mistaken for a weapon.
"We would like to make it clear there was never a gun or any weapon present," he said in the statement, "and no threats or aggressive behavior occurred during the interaction between the city members and the covid-19 team."
A dozen CDC workers were part of a door-to-door study by the Minnesota Department of Health to assess the true prevalence statewide of the novel coronavirus behind the COVID-19 pandemic. Surveyors were offering free diagnostic testing in 180 neighborhoods to identify active COVID-19 infections in volunteers, and blood antibody testing to find people who had previously been infected.
A "pattern" of several unfriendly incidents in central and southern Minnesota, including racial and ethnic slurs directed at surveyors, prompted the CDC to withdraw its team, said Dan Huff, assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health. The state subsequently canceled the survey study rather than proceed without the federal workers.
A CDC spokesman declined to provide information on the decision on Friday and wasn't immediately available to comment on Saturday.
Huff on Friday said the team in Eitzen had been boxed in by two cars and approached by three men, including a man with his hand on a holstered weapon. He added that racial epithets were directed at the federal surveyors.
"The team felt the intent was to intimidate and scare them," he said.
Adamson in his statement countered that the cars were parked on both sides of the surveyors but did not block them. A city official and two local residents approached the surveyors, who had drawn suspicion because they were driving in an unmarked vehicle with California license plates, according to his statement.
The surveyors were allowed to proceed after they presented credentials and a call to the Houston County Sheriff's Department confirmed that they were conducting legitimate public health work.
The Houston County Sheriff's Office issued a statement Friday saying it could not confirm or deny allegations by the health officials, since the alleged victims hadn't contacted the sheriff's office.
"We have requested additional information from [the Minnesota Department of Health] but have not yet received the requested information," said the statement on the department's Facebook page. "Obviously, the allegations are concerning and [we] wish the surveyors would have immediately reported the incident to law enforcement."
Huff said health officials consulted with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and that surveyors did not file a police report because they were allowed to leave and no crime appeared to have been committed.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744