Minnesota’s contact tracing survey excluded big-box retailers

A newly obtained document confirms what skeptics have long believed: that Minnesota's contact tracers only asked questions that could pin the spread of the virus on bars, restaurants, gyms and salons — the same types of establishments that Walz shut down.

Left: A section of the contact tracing survey obtained via a data request; right: Gov. Tim Walz speaks at a press conference (Facebook)

The state used to keep the questions its contact tracers asked COVID-19 patients a secret. However, a document obtained via a data request now shows exactly what they did — and did not — inquire about.

Last year, Minnesota shut down its restaurants, bars, hair salons, workout facilities and ended youth sports in an effort to “follow the science” and slow the spread of COVID-19. Meanwhile, big-box stores like Walmart and Target were allowed to remain open, granting big business an effective monopoly.

Central to Gov. Tim Walz’s decision to enforce these shutdowns that cost up to 13% of workers their jobs at the peak of the shutdowns was data garnered from contact tracing. Contact tracing is the process by which state health officials reach out to people diagnosed with COVID-19 to determine where they’ve been in an effort to understand how/in what venues the virus spreads.

At one point, contact tracers reported that over 20% of people who contracted coronavirus visited a restaurant within the 14 days preceding their diagnosis.

However, uncertainty abounded regarding what exactly contact tracers asked for, as the state hid the questions its tracers were asking. Even mainstream media outlets like MPR were forced to concede that the public can only understand so much from the data because information on infection rates in stores was not included.

Meanwhile, it was broadly speculated that the state only inquired about the types of establishments that were subject to shutdowns and restrictions.

This theory has apparently been proven correct, thanks to documents obtained by a data request (state-level FOIA equivalent) and passed along to Alpha News. The results of this request show the exact questions asked by contact tracers — who only inquired about COVID patients’ attendance at the types of establishments targeted by Walz’s shutdowns.

The “exposure history” section of the contact tracing form only inquires about the subject’s patronage at a restaurant or bar, salon, spa or barber, participation in sporting events, visits to a gym or attendance at a “mass gathering.”

This seems to show that the state restricted most small businesses while leaving big-box stores open not because they had data to show the latter was safe, but because they produced a survey that could only show the dangers of the former.

“Perhaps the most important part of the survey process is the creation of questions that accurately measure the opinions, experiences and behaviors of the public,” according to Pew Research. The government’s contact tracing questionnaires apparently fail to accurately measure the experiences of the public as they only ask about a very narrow set of scenarios.

See the full form filled out by contact tracers here:

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