(CNN)A door-to-door Covid-19 survey in Minnesota has been halted after team members reported receiving racial and ethnic slurs in the city of Eitzen, according to state health officials, but the city denies the claims.
Minnesota Covid-19 survey halted after team members report racial slurs, state officials say
"A door-to-door Covid-19 testing survey has been halted due to multiple incidents in outstate Minnesota of residents intimidating and shouting racial and ethnic slurs at state and federal public health survey team," the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) tweeted Friday.
Eitzen is in southern Minnesota near the Iowa boarder.
The Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER) survey is "a voluntary, in-person survey to understand the effect Covid-19 is having on Minnesota communities," the MDH website says.
"Many of the individual incidents could perhaps have been considered misunderstandings," Dan Huff, assistant commissioner of MDH's Health Protection Bureau, told CNN affiliate WCCO. "But over the past week, a pattern emerged where the CASPER teams that included people of color were reporting more incidents than teams that did not include people of color. Given the uncertainty of the situation and the impact the incidents had on team members, CDC decided to demobilize their field staff."
Eitzen Mayor Jeff Adamson posted a lengthy rebuttal on his Facebook page Friday evening saying his city is "shocked by the accusations made in news reports released today, and saddened to hear our city being slandered."
In a lengthy statement, Adamson said his city "in no way supports racism and violence," and said that on September 15 "a concerned citizen" notified city officials when they saw a team of three people in an out-of-state vehicle, knocking on doors "claiming to be conducting a Covid-19 survey and tests."
"In a very small town where everyone knows everyone, a group of unfamiliar people with out-of-state plates is unusual, and to some residents its cause for concern," he said.
Adamson said the Houston County Sheriff's Department came to assess the situation in the presence of city officials and two residents. The sheriff's department confirmed the team was part of the MDH, he wrote.
Huff told WCCO that the survey team was confronted by three men, one of whom was armed, and the team felt intimidated.
"We would like to make it clear there was never a gun or any weapon present, and no threats or aggressive behavior occurred during the interaction between the city members and the Covid-19 team," Adamson said.
It's possible the survey team "misinterpreted a large fire department communication radio in a holster for a firearm," Adamson said in his post.
On Saturday, the sheriff's department told CNN there was nobody who could speak on the matter and to try back on Monday.
The mayor's statement did not address any other incidents that the health department referred to.
CNN Health reached out to the CDC, and has not heard back.