The top health official in Tulsa, Oklahoma, urged the Trump campaign Wednesday to postpone its upcoming rally in the city, pointing out that the state just saw its largest daily increase in COVID-19 cases and that a massive public gathering could cause another spike.
“I know so many people are over COVID, but COVID is not over,” Bruce Dart, executive director of the Tulsa Health Department, said in a news briefing. He pleaded with people to wear masks and take precautions.
Supporters of President Donald Trump are expected to completely fill Tulsa’s 19,000-seat BOK Center indoor arena Saturday for Trump’s first rally since the campaign paused events because of the pandemic.
The virus is still a major problem in the U.S. ― there have been more than 2.1 million cases in the country and more than 117,000 deaths ― but Trump has pushed to reopen the country and restart public campaign events.
This worries some officials in Oklahoma, where there have been 8,904 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 364 deaths, according to totals released Wednesday. The state reported its largest single-day increase in cases, up 259 from the day before. Tulsa County has reported 1,825 confirmed cases and 64 deaths so far.
The rally’s large crowd in an indoor venue, and the lack of a requirement that attendees wear masks, poses risks to those who attend. The campaign is even making attendees agree not to sue if they do get COVID-19.
The campaign will check attendees’ temperatures and give out hand sanitizer and face masks before entry, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale tweeted on Monday.
Trump told Gray Television on Wednesday that he was not concerned about people getting sick at the rally, even though cases are rising in Oklahoma.
“If you look, the numbers are very minuscule compared to what it was,” he said. “It’s dying out. … We’re not concerned. Actually, Oklahoma has had a very low rate relatively speaking. It is a little spike, a small spike for a specific reason.”
“We’ll go there, everyone is going to be safe,” Trump added.
Top Trump backers acknowledged the rally won’t be safe for some supporters.
“If you have comorbidities, if you are older or if you have other health issues, don’t come. Watch it on TV,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said Wednesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” adding that he encourages attendees to wear masks, but “that’s gonna be an individual decision.”
Despite the concerns, the campaign is moving ahead with the rally. Kellyanne Conway, a top White House adviser to the president, told reporters Wednesday that “people are going to go if they feel comfortable going.”
But White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany repeatedly declined on Wednesday to tell reporters which health officials Trump consulted before picking Oklahoma as a site for the rally. The White House has not offered up any other experts to vouch for the safety of the rally.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, an infectious disease expert and member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, said he personally would not attend a rally.
“I’m in a high risk category,” Fauci told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “Personally, I would not. Of course not.” He added that “outside is better than inside, no crowd is better than crowd” and “crowd is better than big crowd.”
The state has several large outdoor venues, including the University of Oklahoma football stadium in Norman, the Oklahoma State University football stadium in Stillwater and the University of Tulsa football stadium. Each can handle the same number of people as the BOK Center arena. Lankford said the rally would be held indoors because of the heat.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, a Republican, on Tuesday also voiced his concerns about the rally coming into his city.
“Was the nation’s first large campaign rally after the arrival of COVID-19 my idea? No,” Bynum said in a Facebook post. “Do I share anxiety about having a full house at the BOK Center? Of course. As someone who is cautious by nature, I don’t like to be the first to try anything. I would have loved some other city to have proven the safety of such an event already.”
But Oklahoma’s GOP Gov. Kevin Stitt has been very receptive to the idea of Trump’s coming to Tulsa and even invited him to visit the Greenwood District, site of the Tulsa Race Massacre that occurred 99 years ago, sparking outrage among Black Oklahomans.
Stitt declined HuffPost’s request for a comment on the potential dangers of increased COVID-19 and the measures the state is taking to promote safety among rally attendees.
Beyond the COVID-19 concerns, the rally was controversial for its location and its initial date. The fact that the campaign picked Tulsa, where the racist massacre took place, was offensive to many, given the ongoing protests against racism and police brutality.
In addition, the campaign initially scheduled the rally for Juneteenth (which takes place Friday), a holiday that celebrates the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S. The campaign pushed the rally to Saturday in light of that concern.
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