Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, declined a request to share the number of GOP state senators and staff infected with COVID-19 following an indoors post-election victory party for his caucus on Nov. 5 featuring little mask wearing.
State Sen. Matt Klein, DFL-Mendota Heights, a physician, on Tuesday wrote to Gazelka to ask how many members and staff had been tested, experienced symptoms and tested positive in the wake of the recent outbreak that is known to have infected at least four GOP members. He also asked to know which members had attended the Nov. 12 special legislative session.
In a Thursday letter obtained by the Reformer, Gazelka responded to Klein’s inquiry, saying his request “falls outside of the Senate’s COVID-19 Preparedness Plan, dated and distributed Senate-wide on September 28.”
He added: “I am committed to protecting senators, staff and the people with whom we come in contact. I also take seriously the right to privacy for an individual’s health.”
To date, Gazelka and other Republican state senators have not answered questions about just how many members were stricken with the virus. Gazelka and Sens. David Senjem of Rochester, Jerry Relph of St. Cloud and Paul Anderson of Plymouth have all said they tested positive.
Democratic-Farmer-Labor state senators fear there are potentially others that have not been publicly reported.
Klein, who practices at Hennepin County Medical Center, said the information he sought could be reported “in a way that respects privacy concerns, by not naming individual members.”
Gazelka faced criticism for hosting the large indoor gathering two days after the Nov. 3 election, as well as for his handling of the outbreak in the days after. Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, called for his resignation, but Gazelka has indicated he has no intention of stepping down as caucus leader.
Despite issuing a statement acknowledging he could have handled the situation better, Gazelka on Thursday defended the decision to hold the party, which was first reported by Fox 9.
“It was an event that was legal,” he told WCCO Radio’s Chad Hartman. “I don’t regret that we had the celebration.”
A spokeswoman for Gazelka did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.