by Rose Williams
A court document filed last week claims Gov. Tim Walz’s administration attempted to pin the blame for COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities on youth sporting events without any evidence to back it up.
Let Them Play Minnesota previously filed a lawsuit against Walz for requiring youth athletes to wear masks while competing. Now, the group has amended its complaint to reflect evidence of the Walz administration’s effort to connect COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities to youth sports.
In its amended complaint, Let Them Play claims to be in possession of email evidence proving Walz officials engaged in a “complete fabrication” of the risks associated with youth sporting events.
“As people push back on youth sports and whether they really need to be ended, we need to more explicitly tie youth sports to LTC,” an unnamed political consultant said in an email, which was sent the same day the governor shut down youth sports, according to the lawsuit.
The consultant then described how the Walz administration would defend this shutdown: people are attending youth sports, going out to eat afterwards, and then perhaps going to their jobs in long-term care facilities the next day.
“The spread and deaths in LTC can be traced back to youth sports and some of these social settings,” the political consultant’s email continued.
The consultant also said Walz wanted long-term care leaders and employees “to be thinking about being proactive and aggressive as LTC deaths [are] going back up.”
Youth athletes and spectators attending games did not cause COVID-19 deaths, the amended lawsuit argues, yet the governor banned youth sports on Nov. 18 under the pretense that they were to blame for viral spread in Minnesota.
There is no “evidence in fact, or data, or logic” to support that claim, Let Them Play’s lawsuit says.
Anyone who attends or participates in a sporting event within 14 days prior to a positive test is documented as a sports-related case, the lawsuit claims. However, MDH epidemiologists reported that they actually do not know “if transmission occurred during the sports activity” for cases that are documented as “sports-related.”
“Gov. Walz should be ashamed for fabricating claims that somehow nursing home deaths are the result of youth sports,” Let them Play Executive Director Dawn Gillman said in a press release.
MDH emails show state leaders were aware that youth sports are not dangerous, “but Walz shut down sports and required masks in a mean-spirited attempt to ‘tie youth sports to LTC’ deaths,” the press release said.
The lawsuit claims MDH officials, pursuant to Commissioner Jan Malcolm’s direction, “intentionally adopted misleading labels and cited deceptive statistics to create a false appearance of risk associated with certain activities, particularly youth sports.”
Malcolm, for instance, told infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann and Margaret Kelly, an MDH assistant commissioner, to use “creative thinking” when case numbers went up. “People look at the primary case numbers and think those are small impacts that don’t justify the dial backs we propose,” she said, the lawsuit claims.
“Commissioner Malcolm did not present any data related to alleged youth sports cases or outbreaks,” the lawsuit continues. “Gov. Walz’s ban on youth sports through EO 20-99 was political theater, window dressing intended to distract from the governor’s shortcomings.”
According to the lawsuit, a sports facility operator asked MDH what the main causes of spread in youth sports are, to which an MDH epidemiologist responded, “You raise an interesting question … at this point, there isn’t much.”
“Governor Walz, his staff, Commissioner Malcolm, Kris Ehresmann, and others engaged in a long-term strategy to find a scapegoat by falsely blaming kids for COVID’s spread and deaths,” the lawsuit summarizes. “This plan culminated in Executive Order 20-99 — announced on Nov. 18, 2020 — through which he banned and blamed youth sports for the spread of COVID without any support in science, data, or evidence.”
Malcolm and Ehresmann addressed Let Them Play’s lawsuit in a media briefing call Thursday.
Malcolm said they “absolutely do believe” that youth sports have contributed to case outbreaks in long-term care facilities, a conclusion they reached through “in-depth” epidemiology tests.
Ehresmann noted that while Let Them Play may be looking for direct connections between youth athletes and long-term care, MDH looks at “the broad spectrum of transmission.”
“When we have a particular ecosystem that’s contributing to increasing spread in the community, that ultimately pushes on the spread in our long-term care settings,” Ehresmann said.
An MDH spokesperson told Alpha News that while MDH did “develop and issue guidelines” for transferring hospitalized COVID-19 patients back to long-term care facilities, MDH’s data never showed that this had “a significant, if any, factor in the spread of COVID-19.”
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Rose Williams is an assistant editor for Alpha News.