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Sen. Scott Jensen takes coronavirus deaths doubt to Fox News

"I think sensationalism sells everything.” - Minnesota Republican Sen. Scott Jensen

"I think sensationalism sells everything.” - Minnesota Republican Sen. Scott Jensen YouTube

Minnesota Sen. Scott Jensen (R-Chaska) takes issue with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines on how to classify COVID-19 deaths.

Jensen’s opinions on the subject tend to carry more weight than most lawmakers'. He happens to be a family physician in Watertown. That experience is why Jensen’s clashed with some of his fellow Republican colleagues over, say, outlawing conversion therapy, or providing emergency insulin.

His beef with the death guidelines, in simple terms, is he feels they’re too “squishy” about designating COVID-19 as a cause of death.

“Ideally,” the guidelines say, “testing for COVID-19 should be conducted, but it is acceptable to report COVID-19 on a death certificate without this confirmation if the circumstances are compelling within a reasonable degree of certainty.” These deaths would be designated as “probable” or “presumed” cases in Minnesota, which has so far reported some of the lowest rates of transmission and death in any U.S. state.

“In short, it’s ridiculous,” he told Fox News on Thursday. “The idea that we’re going to allow people to massage and game the numbers is a real issue…. The public’s trust in politicians is already wearing thin.”

Cue the social media explosion, accusing public health officials of manufacturing “high death rates to justify draconian lockdowns,” and the occasional “Deep State” reference being bandied about. None of the death figures, commenters said, could be trusted now.

On a Thursday coronavirus briefing, Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm addressed Jensen’s complaint and some of the “confusion” and “misinformation” stemming from it directly.

She said this was actually a fairly common approach during major disasters, and that nobody was trying to “inflate” the numbers. The guidelines are meant to help give us a better idea of the scale of the pandemic while COVID-19 tests are chronically in short supply.

The 50 confirmed deaths in the state so far, she said, had indeed tested positive.

“Correcting the record and medical accuracy is important to us,” she said.

Jensen still stands by what he said—the guidelines bug him.

He says he called half a dozen fellow doctors after reviewing the guidelines, and none of them could recall ever being “coached” on how to call the cause of death… but then again, he adds, he hasn’t had much experience doctoring in a state ravaged by, say, hurricanes or tsunamis.

He does say Malcolm is right that the shortage of tests does present a problem. These are not ideal circumstances. But a death certificate, he says, is a document of “tremendous importance.” It can determine things like life insurance payouts, the likelihood of inherited diseases and genetic traits generations down the line, and there’s “potential” it could affect hospital revenue.

He also cautions against assuming that because he disagrees on this one bit of policy, he believes the entirety of the government’s approach is rotten to the core.

“People need to know that Gov. [Tim] Walz and Commissioner Malcolm and their team, they’re working very hard to make the best decisions they can,” Jensen says. “Just because I take issue with one piece of the puzzle doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be on a broad base of agreement with so many of the things that they’re doing."

"But," he adds, "I think sensationalism sells everything.”