Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced July 30 that his office has brought an enforcement action against North Star Ranch, LLC, of Effie, Minn., that allowed large crowds to attend its annual three-day North Star Stampede rodeo without taking required safety precautions against the spread of COVID-19.
On Friday, state health officials confirmed that an attendee was infectious while at the event. The Minnesota Department of Health determined that the person was a Minnesota resident from a neighboring county attending the event held July 23-26. The person developed symptoms on July 27 and tested positive the same day for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 disease. Because people are infectious several days before symptom onset, health officials believe the person was infectious while at the event.
“If you attended this event, you should consider yourself potentially exposed,” urged Jan Malcolm, Minnesota Health Commissioner. “That means you should be watching for symptoms and if you do develop symptoms, seek health care and get tested. In the meantime, please limit your public interactions and activities for 14 days, practice social distancing and wear a mask during all interactions with others.”
A representative from the Attorney General’s Office and the Minnesota Department of Health initially spoke with the owner of North Star Ranch in Effie on July 22 to confirm that the company had implemented and would follow required safety precautions during its annual rodeo event to ensure that its attendees were protected from the community spread of COVID-19.
North Star Ranch owner, Cimarron Pitzen, subsequently posted to the rodeo’s Facebook page: “The North Star Stampede will take place with no spectators. If people would like to come and protest against this ridiculous Government Over Reach, feel free to do so, I will not stand in the way of peoples ‘Right to Assemble.’”
The next day, North Star Ranch opened its gates to what local reporters described as “thousands” of attendees far in excess of the maximum allowed under Executive Order 20-74 and State requirements for halting the spread of COVID-19. Although Pitzen claimed the North Star Stampede rodeo would “take place with no spectators,” the many attendees that entered the rodeo event venue on July 24, 25, and 26 congregated in the bleachers surrounding the dirt arena and watched each day’s rodeo competitions. Once it accepted people inside, the rodeo accepted “donations” and sold programs to attendees listing the rodeo’s events. Attendees observed rodeo events, cheered for rodeo participants, and were entertained by a rodeo clown hired by North Star Ranch throughout each day.
One attendee noted on the “North Star Stampede, Effie MN” public Facebook page, that the first day of the event was, “Great! Everyone just gave them a ‘donation’ and sat and watched the rodeo like always.”
“Stopping the spread of COVID-19 is everyone’s responsibility. It’s in all Minnesotans’ interest for businesses and events to comply with the law and the Governor’s executive orders so that we can protect ourselves, our loved ones, our communities, and our livelihoods,” Attorney General Ellison reported. “My office has been working successfully for months with businesses and events across Minnesota to help them understand the law and the Governor’s executive orders so that they can operate responsibly and keep Minnesotans safe during this pandemic. In most cases, we’ve reached agreement that leads to voluntary compliance. Because we take the health of Minnesota’s people and economy very seriously, we take our responsibility to educate and seek compliance very seriously.
“My office is also charged with enforcing the law and the Governor’s executive orders when need be if we cannot gain compliance. We also take that duty seriously,” Attorney General Ellison continued. “Business owners and event operators need to know that they are not above the law. If they risk the health and safety of our communities, my office will take strong action, as we are doing today.”
This is the first action the Attorney General’s Office has brought to enforce Executive Order 20-74 against an entertainment venue that has operated in open defiance of the law. In the enforcement action brought this week, the Attorney General is seeking civil penalties of up to $25,000 per violation, restitution, disgorgement, and/or damages to the State, as well as the Office’s costs and fees, and other equitable relief. Ellison says the Attorney General’s Office will continue to take enforcement actions as necessary to protect the health and safety of the public.