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Minnesota Democrats call on Senate majority leader Gazelka to resign over COVID handling

Associated Press

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FILE - In this Nov. 10, 2016 file photo, Minnesota State Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, center, is joined by Senate Republicans at the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone File)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota’s Democratic senators are calling on Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka to resign from his leadership post after Senate Republicans failed to notify their Democratic colleagues, nonpartisan staff and Capitol security of a potential COVID-19 outbreak among GOP ranks in advance of a special session last week.

Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent called on Gazelka to step down on Sunday, hours after he disclosed that he tested positive for COVID-19. Kent said GOP gatherings led to an outbreak and the information wasn’t shared, and there is still uncertainty about who was exposed.

“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,” she said in a statement.

Gazelka did not immediately return a message seeking comment Monday. In a statement Sunday, he said he has been in quarantine since he began experiencing symptoms Nov. 9 and “will remain in quarantine as long as my doctor advises me to.” He said he was not experiencing major issues or symptoms, and the “blaming and shaming” of a positive COVID-19 test has to stop.

“The deliberate choice to use a COVID diagnosis as a political tool to blame just Republicans when community spread is uncontrolled is indicative of failed leadership looking for a scapegoat,” he said. Gazelka is in Florida and said he did not attend the Legislature’s special session Thursday.

Democratic Gov. Tim Walz said the virus doesn’t operate along party lines.

“Each of us has a personal responsibility to take steps to slow the spread. And if we know of a positive case, we have a moral obligation to share that information with others so that they can protect themselves and their families,” Walz said in a statement. “As elected officials, we must lead by example.”

Kent’s call for Gazelka to resign comes after reports that two other GOP senators tested positive for COVID-19. There have been reports of in-person meetings, and Fox 9 reported that Republicans also held a dinner party Nov. 5 that drew more than 100 attendees. Republican senators and staffers were told of the diagnoses last Tuesday, but the memo wasn’t shared with Senate Democrats.

Cases are surging across the state. On Monday, Minnesota health officials reported an additional 7,444 positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases in the state to 231,018. Another 12 people died from the virus, bringing the death toll to 2,917 since the pandemic began.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Minnesota has risen over the past two weeks from 2,410 new cases per day on Nov. 1 to 6,103 new cases per day on Nov. 15.

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