July 14, 2024

Reckless COVID talk will hurt, not heal

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Politicians running against “lawlessness” shouldn’t actively encourage that same conduct from their supporters.

It’s frustrating that a Republican front-runner in the Minnesota governor’s race needs to be rebuked for this potentially perilous hypocrisy. But it is necessary as Dr. Scott Jensen, a Chaska physician and one-term legislator, ramps up his campaign to win the GOP nomination and unseat DFL Gov. Tim Walz in 2022.

As a family practice doctor, Jensen should be an informed advocate for public health and safety. But while he frequently calls for “law and order,” he’s sabotaging it by encouraging supporters to flout the federal authority that recently put strengthened COVID-19 protections in place.

The pandemic already has claimed more than 670,000 American lives. Health officials are desperately trying to prevent more needless deaths. On Sept. 9, President Joe Biden announced a necessary new strategy to boost the nation’s lagging vaccination rate. The federal workforce and those who work at firms with 100 or more employees must now get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.

Jensen frequently touts his ability to “heal” Minnesota. His latest prescription, offered up in a YouTube video after Biden’s speech, does just the opposite.

In it, he encourages Minnesotans to disregard the new requirements and calls for “civil disobedience” that would further divide the state while putting his followers at risk as COVID patients max out hospital capacity in some states.

This approach wouldn’t “heal,” but it definitely could harm. It’s especially bizarre that this message is coming from a physician whose profession has historically taken an oath to avoid doing just that.

Jensen has been a rare COVID contrarian among Minnesota’s medical providers. He has accused health officials of inflating COVID deaths. He spoke at an anti-masking, anti-vaccine mandate rally held Aug. 28 at the Minnesota State Capitol, where he urged those listening to “be as dangerous as we can be.”

Rhetoric like this in combination with the YouTube video goes too far. Recently, a parent angry about school masking requirements had to be removed in handcuffs from a Richfield school. In New York this week, three tourists assaulted a restaurant hostess after she asked them to comply with city policies requiring proof of vaccination for entry. Minnesota and the nation needs leaders who deflate anger, not pour gasoline on it.

In an interview with an editorial writer this week, Jensen stressed that he is calling for nonviolent resistance. We hope he continues to make that clear. He also compared his call for civil disobedience with the civil rights battle fought by Rosa Parks. That’s preposterous. Parks’ refusal to sit in the back of the bus did not risk fueling a dangerous pandemic.

It is important to note that Jensen previously earned the Editorial Board’s admiration for his leadership in the state Senate. He played a vital role in passing an insulin assistance bill and co-chaired Attorney General Keith Ellison’s task force on prescription drug prices.

Jensen also courageously waded into the gun control debate, writing in a March 2018 commentary that “using the tool of a background check to keep guns out of the hands of convicts, mentally ill persons requiring involuntary commitment, drug addicts, and stalkers is reasonable,” although as a candidate for governor he has said he doesn’t support so-called red flag laws.

During his interview with an editorial writer, Jensen offered this assurance: “That person that you talked to in years gone by is still here.’’ We hope that’s true. Minnesota would be far better served by the smart, compassionate legislator Jensen once was than the reckless COVID contrarian he’s become.

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