The Potluck

Stanford study tracks Trump rally COVID-19 cases, including in Bemidji

By: - November 2, 2020 2:02 pm

The rally for President Donald Trump in Bemidji in September was one of the Trump events examined by Stanford researchers to determine their effect on COVID-19 infections. Photo by Molly Korzenowski/Minnesota Reformer.

A new Stanford University study estimates the Trump campaign rallies — including a September rally in Bemidji — held through mid-September have caused more than 30,000 people to get infected with COVID-19, and more than 700 deaths. The fatalities were not necessarily among rally goers. 

The researchers focused on 18 rallies, including the Sept. 18 rally in Bemidji that attracted an estimated 10,000 people, examining those counties’ caseloads before and after the rallies.

They estimate the rallies increased subsequent cases of COVID-19 by more than 250 per 100,000 residents.

CNN also included the Bemidji rally in its recent examination of 17 rallies and found that while the county infection rate was already increasing the month prior to the rally, one month afterward it had increased 385% and was outpacing the state rate.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said large events where people don’t wear masks or social distance — which describes a typical Trump rally — pose a substantial risk of spreading the virus.

“There is reason to fear that such gatherings can serve as superspreader events, severely undermining efforts to control the pandemic,” the authors of the Stanford study wrote. “The communities in which Trump rallies took place paid a high price in terms of disease and death.”

By late September, cases were spiking in Bemidji, according to the Beltrami County Public Health Department, and the county had the third most cases in the state. In early October, the Minnesota Department of Health tested 1,285 people in the area and 33 tested positive — 24 of them Bemidji residents, according to the Bemidji Pioneer.

The Beltrami County health director, however, said more cases were traced to an indoor wedding reception a day after the rally. But another Beltrami County official said some patients weren’t answering contact tracers’ questions.

As of Monday, the state Health Department has linked 20 cases to the Bemidji rally and (four at a counter protest); four to Trump’s much smaller, colder Sept. 30 Duluth rally (where Trump was likely already infected and infectious); three to Vice President Mike Pence’s Sept. 24 airport policing panel; and one to Joe Biden’s Sept. 18 Duluth stop.

All of the Trump events are considered outbreaks, which is defined as three or more positive cases among people from different households.  

Of those who contracted the virus that could be traced to the Bemidji rally, there were no deaths.

The Washington Post recently reported the Trump campaign broke an agreement with Duluth city officials to abide by state health guidelines, which limit outdoor gatherings to 250 people.

Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht said her city didn’t have such an agreement, because “our expectation was they would follow the governor’s orders.”

“Oh my gosh it was terrible,” she said of the Bemidji rally, which attracted people from hundreds of miles away.

“The attendance was broad and deep and wide,” she said. “The Trump folks estimated it at 10,000; the population of Bemidji on a good day is 15,000.”

So when Trump was planning his fourth campaign stop in Minnesota in Rochester — where cases were on the rise and testing lines were long — city officials reached an agreement with the campaign to cap the rally at 250..

This time, the Trump campaign abided by the agreement. Outside the rally, Trump supporters who weren’t allowed in continued to crowd together without masks.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.