Top officials in Tulsa, Oklahoma, said Wednesday that at-risk people should not attend President Donald Trump’s rally as the city set a daily record for most new COVID-19 cases.
Speaking to reporters, Mayor G.T. Bynum, a Republican, said it was a “tremendous honor” that the president would select the city to hold his first rally since the onset of the pandemic, but he said he could not give assurances that it would not lead to rapid transmission of the coronavirus.
“I’m not positive that everything is safe,” Bynum said, adding that he “completely” understands “the concern people have” if rallygoers are not cautious.
But Bynum said the “far greater” risk for spreading the virus is not the rally or any protests but a general sense that it is OK to relax the precautions people are taking.
Tulsa officials estimated that 100,000 people will gather in the city for the rally.
“Any rational person looking at any large grouping of people would have concerns about this weekend,” Bynum said, adding that the concern is shared for “any large gathering.”
Bynum said he would greet the president and would then spend Saturday with Tulsa police rather than take part in the rally.
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Bruce Dart, director of the Tulsa City/County Health Department, said a record 96 Tulsa County residents had tested positive for the virus over the past day, a record, adding that there are 585 active cases in Tulsa County.
Dart said that the county began to record a marked increase in cases beginning early last week and that it had seen a significant increase in hospitalizations since June 6.
“Let me be clear: Anyone planning to attend a large-scale gathering will face an increased risk of contracting COVID-19,” Dart said, adding that if people are part of a vulnerable population or have recently been exposed to someone with COVID-19, they should stay home.
“If we could push it back until when it’s safer,” he said, “that’s what I’d like to see happen.”
Officials said they appreciated the measures the Trump campaign said it was taking before the rally and encouraged attendees to take precautions, like wearing masks and washing their hands with soap and water. The Trump campaign has said each attendee will be subjected to a temperature check and offered hand sanitizer and a mask, although one is not necessarily required.
The Trump campaign has required attendees to sign away their ability to sue the campaign should they contract the virus at the event, for which Trump has claimed more than 1 million people have requested tickets.
Earlier Wednesday, a state court judge rejected a lawsuit aimed at mandating coronavirus precautions at the rally. Lawyers for the plaintiffs then filed a motion asking the state Supreme Court to order the lower court to grant their request. The plaintiffs, who want an emergency hearing by Friday, seek an order directing BOK Center in Tulsa, the 19,000-seat venue set to hold the rally, to impose social distancing and require mask-wearing.
The plaintiffs include Greenwood Centre Ltd., which owns 60,000 square feet of storefront and office space in downtown Tulsa; a group that organizes events in observation of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre; and two people who have compromised immune systems.
“Tulsa is experiencing double the amount of new cases it experienced in March and April when restrictions on large gatherings and businesses were still in place,” the suit said, adding, “It would take only a few infected individuals — who are likely asymptomatic and have no idea that they are infected — to infect hundreds if not thousands more.”
In a message to supporters Wednesday, the Trump campaign said “radical Democrats” were suing to stop the rally.
“The Liberals have ALWAYS been trying to take me down, and more importantly, they’ve been trying to take YOU down,” the email said. “They hate me. They hate you. They hate rallies and it’s all because they hate the idea of MAKING AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
Dr. Lance Frye, commissioner of the state Health Department, said in a statement Wednesday that health officials appreciated the Trump campaign’s taking measures to make the event safer, adding that “individuals looking to attend Saturday’s event, or any other large-scale gathering, will face an increased risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and becoming a transmitter of this novel virus.”
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In a Facebook post Tuesday, Bynum, the mayor, said he would not try to block the event by invoking emergency authority.
Meanwhile, Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, will meet with Trump at the White House on Thursday to discuss reopening the state.
Trump tweeted this week that people are “trying to Covid Shame us on our big Rallies.”
“Won’t work!” he added.
Speaking at a White House roundtable on senior citizens Monday, Trump said that he expects “a record-setting crowd” and that the rally “certainly won’t” have an empty seat.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said during Wednesday’s briefing that the campaign is taking measures to “make sure this is a safe rally” and that ultimately it is a “personal choice to individuals as to what to do.”
Assuming risk is “part of life,” she said, adding, “It’s the personal decision of Americans whether to go to the rally.”
Speaking with The Daily Beast, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he would not attend any coming rallies because he is in a high-risk category. Fauci added that for such an event, “outside is better than inside, no crowd is better than crowd” and “crowd is better than big crowd.”