State Sen. Jerry Relph, R-St. Cloud, received a positive COVID-19 test Friday, Nov. 13, after learning that he’d been in contact with another person at the Minnesota Senate who’d contracted COVID-19. Relph began quarantining after learning of the possible exposure on Tuesday, Nov. 10, the GOP spokesperson said, and he sought emergency room care Friday, Nov. 13, and Sunday, Nov. 15. Relph was sent home both times, the spokesperson said.
Relph is the latest GOP state lawmaker to report testing positive for the virus following a Nov. 5 caucus leadership meeting at the Capitol complex. Members were also reported to have held a post-election party later that night with more than 100 in attendance.
A House Republican spokesman on Monday also confirmed that a GOP representative tested positive for the illness after attending an in-person caucus leadership meeting Nov. 6. The spokesman didn’t disclose additional information about the representative other than to say that person reached out to all lawmakers and staff present at the Nov. 6 meeting to alert them about the COVID-19 test result and is now isolating.
Neither that individual nor Relph attended a Nov. 12 special session in person at the Capitol. Health privacy laws limit the public disclosure of some COVID-19 cases, so lawmakers and legislative staff can choose to make that information available if they choose.
The cluster of cases stemming from the post-election meetings and events has drawn frustration from Democrats who weren’t notified about the cases before they attended the one-day special session. And Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, D-Woodbury, on Sunday called on Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, East Gull Lake, to resign after he reported he’d also contracted COVID-19.
“Under his leadership, Republican caucus members have engaged in high-risk behaviors, he has misled Minnesotans about their actions, and they have made excuses instead of being accountable,” Kent said in a news release. “This demonstrates that he is not committed to providing for the well-being of all who work in the Senate, their families, and their communities. As a result, he cannot be counted on to lead during the crucial 2021 session.”
Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, on Nov. 9, notified Senate Republicans that he’d tested positive for the virus, and in the days that followed, fellow members of the Senate reported that they’d also tested positive. Sen. Paul Anderson, R-Plymouth, late last week said he’d tested positive for the virus and Gazelka on Sunday, Nov. 15, said he’d also tested positive.
Nearly a dozen GOP members attended the session in-person along with 13 DFL members while others logged in virtually to vote. And a spokeswoman for the Senate DFL Caucus said Democrats weren’t alerted about possibly sitting in the chamber with senators or staff who’d participated in the Nov. 5 in-person meeting or party until after lawmakers adjourned.
Senate Republicans have said no one with a confirmed COVID-19 test or exhibiting symptoms attended the session in-person but it’s not clear whether senators who’d been in close contact with Senjem or others who’d contracted the virus interacted with colleagues while infected.
The pandemic has fueled divisions at the Capitol as lawmakers have split about the use of masks and social distancing measures to curb COVID-19’s spread. As case counts, hospitalizations and deaths have surged in the state, Republicans have acknowledged the severity of the illness, despite prior statements.
And while lawmakers in five prior special sessions voted to end Gov. Tim Walz’s emergency powers to address the pandemic, the Minnesota Senate on Thursday skipped that vote and Gazelka told MPR the virus was surging and Minnesotans needed to pay attention to it.
Walz on Monday called for an end to politicization around the state’s COVID-19 response and urged Minnesotans to take seriously existing restrictions and guidance around masking, social distancing and hand washing. He even called on his political opponents to “wear and mask and stay healthy if only so you can vote against me in two years.”
Two other state representatives, Rena Moran, D-St. Paul, and Fue Lee, D-Minneapolis, shared publicly earlier this year that they had previously tested positive for the virus.