Recently-elected District 55A Rep. Erik Mortensen, a Republican, has sent a letter inviting Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison to his Shakopee home for a “freedom celebration” in defiance of the recent COVID-19 restrictions imposed last week to slow the surge in cases.

According to the letter, which Mortensen posted on his campaign Facebook page, he plans to invite friends who live outside of his personal residence to his home, where they will “be partaking in activities such as darts, beanbag toss and bonfire.”

Local public health officials have advised Minnesota residents to stay home for Thanksgiving and to avoid gatherings with people from different households, citing a surge in COVID-19 cases and overburdened hospitals.

In Shakopee, the intensive care unit at St. Francis Regional Medical Center is full and patients are being diverted elsewhere, Scott County Public Health Director Lisa Brodsky told the Scott County Board of Commissioners Nov. 17.

Brodsky said there’s serious concern about staffing shortages at St. Francis and other hospitals across the state as the COVID-19 crisis enters an “extremely accelerated phase.”

St. Francis said it is not actively turning patients away on a day-to-day basis, although the ICU was full on the day Brodsky presented to the county board.

“As a result of the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, staffing and bed constraints are impacting care delivery throughout Minnesota. St. Francis is doing everything possible to meet the urgent health care needs of our communities. We are monitoring admissions and discharges continuously to ensure patients have access to care when it’s needed,” Monte Johnson, Vice President of Medical Affairs for St. Francis, said in a statement.

Contact tracing efforts have shown a significant number of cases in Scott County have been connected to bars and restaurants, private social gatherings and late-night outings.

Walz’s newest executive order, which began Nov. 20, states all in-person social gatherings with individuals from different households are prohibited, bars and restaurants will transition to takeout and delivery only, and other places such as gyms and event spaces will need to close.

“In other words, Thanksgiving is cancelled this year,” Mortensen said in a video he posted to his campaign page the night the executive order took effect.

Mortensen said in the same video “one man in this country cannot tell any of you who you can have in your home; or how many people you can have in your home.”

Mortensen said the gathering he plans to have on Wednesday with his friends will be “responsible,” adding he and his friends will simply be acting like “grownups,” that guests have been told not to come if they aren’t feeling well, and that they can wear a mask if they’d like.

“I encourage everyone else to have a safe, responsible holiday get-together this holiday season,” Mortensen said to his future constituents.

On Nov. 23, some state Republican and DFL representatives signed a pledge to slow the spread of COVID-19 through a social media campaign that will emphasize mask-wearing and social distancing ahead of the holidays, which will be called #TakeThePledgeMN.

“We’re entering a critical moment in the COVID-19 pandemic in Minnesota, and how we choose to respond will have a direct impact on our family, friends, and neighbors,” said Rep. Kelly Morrison, DFL-Deephaven, who is also a practicing physician.

Rep. Patrick Garafalo, R-Farmington, said Minnesotans “have a role to help protect the vulnerable and slow the spread of COVID-19 across the state.”

“The virus does not care if you’re Republican, Democrat, or Independent. It impacts all of us,” Garafalo said in the press release.

The governor’s office has not yet responded to a request for comment in response to Mortensen’s remarks.

Maddie DeBilzan graduated with a journalism degree from Bethel University. She’s interned at Salon Media and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Outside of work, she sifts through Goodwill clothing racks, listens to Ben Rector's music and goes on long runs.

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