HIBBING - U.S. Rep Pete Stauber appeared at campaign stumps over the weekend in northern Minnesota, despite health experts suggesting he quarantine for 14 days after being exposed to the president now infected with the coronavirus.
Stauber’s campaign posted photographs of him wearing a mask while speaking to voters in Grand Rapids, Hibbing and Pine City, three cities in the Eighth Congressional District.
Quinn Nystrom, the district’s DFL congressional candidate endorsed by former Vice President Joe Biden, had her campaign comment on her opponent’s visits. "This displays a stunning lack of leadership from Congressman Stauber and a reckless disregard for public health. The CDC guidelines are clear: Stauber should be in quarantine for 14 days, as false negatives are likely during the days right after exposure" Sam Rivers, who is Nystrom’s campaign manager, wrote in an email to the Mesabi Tribune on Monday.
The backlash comes as counties in the district continue to report an increasing number of coronavirus cases.
St. Louis County (Pop. 200,000) had a jump in coronavirus cases from 409 cases on Aug. 1 to 1,956 on Monday, and deaths increasing from 18 to 49, according to the Minnesota Health Department.
Data from the county shows that most cases have been detected in Duluth (1,188 total), but Hibbing (103), Chisholm (28), Ely (36), Eveleth (53) and Virginia (49) are among Iron Range cities reporting more cases in the past two months.
The congressman last Wednesday joined the U.S. Representatives Tom Emmer and Jim Hagedorn in flying with President Donald Trump on Air Force One to and from a Duluth rally with roughly 3,000 people in attendance. The following day, the president and the first lady tested positive for COVID-19.
The trio of congressmen on Friday tested negative for the coronavirus. Later that night, they boarded a Delta flight in Washington, D.C.
The Mesabi Tribune on Monday morning sent Stauber several questions on his visits to the Iron Range and his Delta flight. His staff did not respond on campaign matters, but they did send a statement regarding the controversy over flying after being exposed to the coronavirus.
After learning about Trump testing positive for COVID-19, Stauber said he “immediately consulted with the Office of Attending Physician (OAP) of the House of Representatives and, after a full assessment, the doctor determined I had a low risk of exposure and that I should continue my normal duties, including voting on the House Floor and travel.” He added, “While I did not meet the threshold required of a COVID-19 test, out of an abundance of caution I was tested again (this was my second test in a 72-hour period). The results of both tests were negative.”
The congressman went on to say that he “consulted with Delta Airlines to ensure I met all of their stringent travel protocols, including a confirmed negative COVID-19 test from the OAP that permitted me to fly. I met all of Delta Airlines’ protocols and safety measures, which is why the flight was allowed to take off with me on board.”
According to Delta policies, “Customers who have knowingly been exposed to COVID-19 in the past 14 days may not travel.” The Minnesota Health Department recommends a 14-day quarantine for people who come into contact with others who tested positive for the virus. The time frame does not change with a negative test since the virus has an incubation period between two days and two weeks.
The Star Tribune reported that Delta staff had “a conversation with passengers” about the congressmen being on board the D.C. flight. But passengers told the newspaper and KARE11 that they were not told. The plane was delayed for more than an hour due to technical issues and medical officers being asked about the congressmen flying. The congressmen told reporters that they were cleared by doctors and Delta. The airline confirmed.
As Stauber made visits over the weekend to the Iron Range and elsewhere in the district, State Rep. Robert Ecklund, DFL-International Falls, tweeted a comment Sunday on one of the images showing the congressman outside of Grand Rapids businesses. “Another super spreader?”
"Unfortunately, this reckless disregard for public health is a pattern,” Nystrom’s campaign manager added. “Stauber was photographed in a packed ballroom of over 200 people without a mask, flew Delta just a day after being exposed to President Trump for hours while on Air Force One, and now is continuing to go around the district in person within that 14 day window."
In his statement, Stauber also said that he is “disappointed with the very public and clearly partisan shaming that is being carried out by some of my fellow Members of Congress from Minnesota, who quickly jumped to conclusions and did not take the time to review the facts of the situation.” He added, “Going forward, I would simply ask that these Members refrain from spreading fear and stigmatizing people during a public health crisis. I take this virus seriously as should all Americans. I will continue to abide by the expert advice of the medical professionals at the OAP and my family doctor as I work on behalf of the people of Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District.”
Meantime, Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, who met with the president in the Twin Cities before the Duluth rally, announced on Sunday they were quarantined as they awaited testing. Galzelka tweeted on Monday that he tested negative. “Following my doctor’s advice, I am limiting activities and will be tested again later this week to confirm the results.”