Story at a glance
- President Trump has a rally planned to take place on June 20 in Tulsa, Okla.
- It will take place indoors and face masks may not be required.
- Health experts say that this is very risky, and the health director of Tulsa wishes it could be postponed.
President Trump is planning a rally in Tulsa, Okla., for June 20 in what will be the first political rally on the presidential campaign trail since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts are concerned that the rally could be “extraordinarily dangerous,” according to the Associated Press (AP).
The major issues with the planned rally are that it is going to be indoors and face masks may not be required in order to attend. Other factors to consider are that the rally will draw people from nearby towns and states and that, once inside, they will be packed in, eliminating any possibility for practicing social distancing. People may drive long distances to be at the rally, increasing the health risk.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that for large in-person gatherings, people stay 6 feet apart and wear cloth masks.
“The more people an individual interacts with at a gathering and the longer that interaction lasts, the higher the potential risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and COVID-19 spreading,” says the CDC.
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The CDC provides guidelines for how to categorize risk by size of events:
Lowest risk: Virtual-only activities, events, and gatherings.
More risk: Smaller outdoor and in-person gatherings in which individuals from different households remain spaced at least 6 feet apart, wear cloth face coverings, do not share objects, and come from the same local area (e.g., community, town, city, or county).
Higher risk: Medium-sized in-person gatherings that are adapted to allow individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and with attendees coming from outside the local area.
Highest risk: Large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area.
Compared to the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, the campagin rally may be more risky. The protests are all conducted outdoors and most attendees wear masks, with people handing out masks to those who need them. Because protests are happening in streets rather than in a convention center, people can give themselves space if they need it.
President Trump has said in the past that he would not want any seats empty. “I can’t imagine a rally where you have every fourth seat full. Every — every six seats are empty for every one that you have full. That wouldn’t look too good,” he said in April, according to the AP. If the people attending the rally are made to sit next to others without empty seats between, this would be unlike retail and restaurants that have started opening up at half capacity.
Places like hair salons and restaurants can clean surfaces between customers. The people working at these shops can also protect themselves with face masks and gloves. But at a rally, all of the attendees are in the same place at the same time.
Going forward with the rally could be “an extraordinarily dangerous move for the people participating and the people who may know them and love them and see them afterward," says Ashish Jha, director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute,. If people go to the rally and are exposed to the coronavirus, they could carry it back to where they live in the surrounding towns and states. The rally could seed many new infections and lead to more coronavirus cases.
There are more than 8,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Oklahoma, with single-day records last week at more than 200 cases a day. “COVID is here in Tulsa, it is transmitting very efficiently,” says Tulsa Health Department Director Bruce Dart to the Tulsa World. “I wish we could postpone this to a time when the virus isn’t as large a concern as it is today.”
“Any large gathering, whether of protesters or ralliers, is dangerous,” Jha tells the AP.
The Tulsa World editorial board wrote, “The public health concern would apply whether it were Donald Trump, Joe Biden or anyone else who was planning a mass rally at the BOK. This is the wrong time.”
They go on to say, “There’s no reason to think a Trump appearance in Tulsa will have any effect on November’s election outcome in Tulsa or Oklahoma. It has already concentrated the world’s attention of the fact that Trump will be rallying in a city that 99 years ago was the site of a bloody race massacre. This is the wrong place for the rally.”
“A large indoor rally with 19-20,000 people is a huge risk factor today in Tulsa, Oklahoma,” Dart tells Tulsa World. “ .I want to make sure we can keep everyone in that building safe, including the president.”
For up-to-date information about COVID-19, check the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. For updated global case counts, check this page maintained by Johns Hopkins University.
You can follow Chia-Yi Hou on Twitter.
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