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Northern Minnesota rodeo patron tests positive for COVID-19, thousands possibly exposed

Attendees of the North Star Stampede were asked to monitor for symptoms and limit social interactions.

North Star Stampede.jpg
The North Star Stampede, a three-day summer event promoted as the largest outdoor rodeo in the state, is set to happen this weekend in Effie, Minn. Photo courtesy of Pluskwik‎ Photography.
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota health officials on Friday, July 31, announced that an attendee at a northern Minnesota rodeo last weekend tested positive for the coronavirus and attended the event while infectious.

The Minnesota Department of Health asked those who attended the North Star Stampede in Itasca County to watch for symptoms of COVID-19, the illness spurred by the coronavirus, and to consider themselves to have been exposed to the illness. Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the state was investigating the event and asked attendees to limit public interactions for two weeks.

Thousands gathered for the event despite state orders prohibiting large gatherings and participated without masks or face coverings, despite a mandate that took effect July 25 requiring them. Attorney General Keith Ellison on Friday said he would take action against North Star Ranch LLC, the company that hosted the rodeo, for violating the directives.

Ellison in the state's legal complaint said that North Star Ranch violated several executive orders aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 and put at risk the health of patrons by not using protocols to social distance, limit crowds or require masks. And he asked the court to impose $25,000 civil penalties for each recorded violation and block the group from further violating the orders.

“Business owners and event operators need to know that they are not above the law," Ellison said in a news release. "If they risk the health and safety of our communities, my office will take strong action, as we are doing today.”

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Ellison in his complaint cited social media posts and a phone conversation with the business's owner. North Star Ranch leaders on social media said they planned to host the event without spectators, but welcomed visitors to attend in protest of the state's orders. And the comment drew thousands, according to media reports of the event.

The reported case came as the state on Friday reported six new COVID-19 deaths, bringing the total number of deaths in Minnesota to an even 1,600. And the state’s total number of positive cases rose by 779 to 54,463. Of those positive cases, 47,289 no longer require isolation and are considered recovered.

Malcolm on a call with reporters said health officials were putting out a call to rodeo attendees to consider themselves exposed to the disease and seek health care and testing if they develop symptoms.

“We know that there were many many people at this event, so we know there were possible exposures,” Malcolm said.

Of the six COVID-19 deaths reported Friday, three were in Hennepin County, and one each in Olmsted, Ramsey and Scott counties. Two of the deaths were of people 90-99 years old, another two 80-89, one 70-79 and one 20-29 years old, according to the health department.

The current number of positive cases stands at 7,174; 312 are currently hospitalized, according to the health department.

Rodeo testing

People who attended the rodeo can get tested at the following sites:

  • Scenic Rivers Health Services in Bigfork: To set up an appointment to be tested, call 877-541-2817 or 218-743-3232. COVID-19 testing runs 1-4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
  • Essentia Health in Deer River: To set up a testing appointment, people must first attend a virtual appointment that can be set up on Essentia's website essentiahealth.org . Testing hours run every day from 10 a.m. to noon.
  • Grand Itasca Clinic and Hospital in Grand Rapids: People must call 218-326-7344 to set up a phone visit with a provider, who will then provide testing directions. Testing runs every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.

COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148

Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website .

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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