By SOO RIN KIM and ARIELLE MITROPOULOS, ABC News
(BEMIDJI, Minn.) — The Minnesota Department of Health has identified nine coronavirus cases in people who reported attending President Donald Trump’s rally in Bemidji, Minnesota, last month, with one patient currently in the intensive care unit.
While the health department cautioned it is uncertain whether those individuals contracted the virus at the rally or somewhere else, spokesperson Scott Smith told ABC News that “based on case characteristics” in Beltrami County, where Bemidji is located, the Trump rally on Sept. 18, along with a wedding that took place on Sept. 19, appears to be “likely drivers of increases in COVID-19 cases” in the county.
“We cannot definitively say for those cases who did not report either attending a political rally and/or attending a wedding where they were exposed to SARS-CoV-2,” Smith said. “However, these events appear, based on case characteristics, to be likely drivers of increases in COVID-19 cases in Beltrami County.”
According to Smith, since Sept. 1, there have been 278 cases among Beltrami County residents, and 43% of the cases occurred two to 10 days after the Sept. 18 rally and a wedding held on Sept. 19. By case interview, Smith said, 15 cases have been associated with the wedding and nine cases associated with the rally and an additional two cases were associated with a counter-political rally on the same day. Another eight cases attended weddings outside of the county.
The Trump rally was held outdoors at Bemidji Regional Airport, with hundreds of supporters shown crowded together and very few wearing masks.
Earlier this week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency listed Bemidji as one of the rapid risers in terms of the coronavirus spread.
This is the second time one of the president’s rallies has been linked to a surge of cases in an area, after the president’s first post-COVID rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June this year was linked to an increase in coronavirus cases that followed in the area soon after.
Smith told ABC News that the ICU patient was admitted to the hospital on Oct. 4 and then moved to the ICU on Oct. 7. The other patient was hospitalized between Sept. 28 and Oct. 4 without ICU admission. No deaths linked to the rally have been reported yet, he added.
As with other cases linked to Trump’s rallies, another Minnesota health department spokesperson, Doug Schultz, told ABC News that he can’t say the patients contracted the virus at the rally or the response protest, but that they reported attending the events “during the period when they were most likely exposed.”
Schultz said the state is conducting contact tracing to identify any additional cases and secondary spread of the virus from these patients.
Previously, the Minnesota Health Department told ABC News that “a couple of” COVID-19 cases were linked to the president’s Minneapolis rally in August, but said it wasn’t a significant enough number to be considered a mass spread.
In response to the revelation of cases linked to the Trump rally, former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign accused Trump of “willingly exposing his own supporters to the pandemic for his own political gratification.”
“Donald Trump has utterly failed in that duty, lying about this deadly threat to the American people from the very beginning while mismanaging the response — and willingly exposing his own supporters to the pandemic for his own optical gratification,” Biden campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement. “They and all of us deserve change and a real plan to overcome this crisis and deliver for middle class families.”
The Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party on Friday also criticized the Trump campaign.
“From the start of this pandemic, Donald Trump and Minnesota Republicans have ignored public health experts and put their re-elections ahead of the health of Minnesotans,” DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin wrote in a statement. “It was only a matter of time until the dangerous, maskless campaign events staged by Donald Trump and Minnesota Republicans landed Minnesotans in the hospital.”
ABC News’ John Verhovek contributed to this report.
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