The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) pulled federal surveyors measuring the spread of COVID-19 in Minnesota after they allegedly experienced instances of “verbal abuse, intimidation and harassment,” NBC News reported Saturday.
The Minnesota Department of Health first announced the survey in a press release on Sept. 15, which stated that the department was working with the CDC to conduct the Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER) survey of households that included questionnaires on the infection, as well as free virus and antibody tests.
“Through the CASPER survey, we hope to better understand how COVID-19 is spreading in Minnesota and how it is affecting people,” state epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield said in the press release.
Dan Huff, an assistant health commissioner in Minnesota, told NBC News in a statement Saturday that some residents addressed surveyors with racial and ethnic slurs.
Huff said that in one situation, officials conducting the survey in the Minnesota town of Eitzen were allegedly “surrounded by three men who refused to accept their identification as public health workers. 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,” Huff added.
Following the incident, Etizen Mayor Jeffrey Adamson wrote in a statement to NBC’s Minneapolis affiliate, KARE, that “there was never a gun or any weapon present and no threats or aggressive behavior occurred during the interaction between the city members and the Covid-19 team.”
The mayor added that the situation was “handled professionally, courteously, and unbiased with no racial slurs, threats or inappropriate comments made.”
According to NBC, Huff said several other instances had occurred in which surveyors encountered harassment, including some in which team members were followed and videotaped.
“Many of the individual incidents could perhaps have been considered misunderstandings, but over the past week, a pattern emerged where the CASPER teams that included people of color were reporting more incidents than teams that did not include people of color,” Huff told NBC.
The Associated Press reported on Friday that Stephanie Yendell, who supervised the survey in Minnesota, claimed that a Latina worker had “been called a particular epithet more times in the last week than in her entire life.”
Most reported incidents occurred in central and southern Minnesota, where there has been more pushback on statewide coronavirus restrictions, according to the AP.
The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.
Minnesota reported 1,478 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, with 10 new deaths due to the virus. The state’s health department has now recorded a total of at least 95,659 infections in the state, as well as more than 2,000 people dead.