Story published: October 13, 2020

Governor Tim Walz convened a discussion with COVID-19 survivors and healthcare professionals to try to humanize the numbers behind the unprecedented pandemic. State health officials say that, so far, more than a dozen cases – one in the ICU – are associated with President Donald Trump’s rally in Bemidji, Minn., in mid-September.

One doctor said broadly that he’s seeing a lot of collaboration, and that gives him hope in a virus they’re still struggling to fully understand. Dr. Cuong Pham said, “It’s an illness that you don’t control, it controls us.” The stories were personal, including one from Kathryn Hall, who lost her mother: “She’s a person, and this is her story, and we lost time in this process .” Nachito Herrera added, “Each number has a name .”

Emergency doctor Jon Cole, his wife and four kids all got the coronavirus. “I never felt so short of breath in my life,” Cole said. “I feel so badly for the families I have to give bad news to and they can’t see my face getting the most difficult news in their life.”

Officials are concerned about fatigue setting in from wearing masks and social distancing. Amy Westbrook from St. Louis County Public Health  said, “As we see community spread increase, all we have is our health practices and each other .”

Minnesota is surrounded by states with spiking case numbers, and Gov. Walz says about his mask mandate, “There are months to go on this.” He added that the U.S. has not handled the virus properly, with some of the worst outcomes, concluding, “We’re still in this long, dark winter.”

The state doesn’t appear to be taking action against the Trump campaign for holding events in violation of health rules that limit gatherings to 250 people. Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said they “had hoped they’d partner with us.” As of early October, St. Louis County hadn’t necessarily seen an increase in testing related to the Duluth event with 3,000 estimated in attendance. By Monday October 12, the Health Department also had two cases tied to political events for Joe Biden, one in Duluth.

Stay tuned to Almanac on Friday nights at 7 pm on TPT2 for ongoing coverage of the pandemic’s impact on politics and on people’s lives. 

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President Donald Trump tested positive for the coronavirus the day after visiting Minnesota, where he met with Republican legislative leaders and three Minnesota members of Congress, who flew with him on Air Force One before Trump appeared in front of thousands. Prior to his diagnosis, Mary Lahammer spoke with local experts about the political change in the Northland.

A historic number of people is expected to vote by mail this November 2020, yet a top election official says that Minnesota might not look all that different. Political reporter Mary Lahammer interviewed Joe Mansky, who worked for decades in state and local elections offices, and agrees that the amount of national attention Minnesota is seeing in the presidential race is unusual. 

In late September, history was again made in Minnesota: Both candidates for president visited the state on the same day, suggesting that Minnesota may just be a battleground state as we head into the November election. Mary Lahammer offers this report on what to make of that September day.