Tulsa Health Department director: ‘I wish we could postpone’ Trump rally

Tulsa’s health director voiced concerns Saturday about President Trump’s upcoming rally in the city, saying the novel coronavirus is still a serious health threat and that a large indoor event produces a “huge risk.”

“I think it’s an honor for Tulsa to have a sitting president want to come and visit our community, but not during a pandemic,” Tulsa City-County Health Department Director Bruce Dart told The Tulsa World. “I’m concerned about our ability to protect anyone who attends a large, indoor event, and I’m also concerned about our ability to ensure the president stays safe as well.”

“COVID is here in Tulsa, it is transmitting very efficiently,” Dart added. “I wish we could postpone this to a time when the virus isn’t as large a concern as it is today.”

Trump is preparing to host his first in-person campaign rally in more than three months in Tulsa this week.

The Trump campaign suspended in-person events in March as the coronavirus outbreak caused states around the nation to institute stay-at-home orders in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. The president said last week that his campaign would “start our rallies back up” with an event in Tulsa on June 19.

He later announced that the rally would be pushed one day later to avoid overlapping with Juneteenth, the annual holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S. The initial date of the event had garnered swift backlash.

As of Saturday, Oklahoma health officials had reported more than 8,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 359 deaths. The state reported 225 new cases over the previous 24-hour period on Saturday, marking a new high, The Tulsa World reported. Tulsa County also reported a new high in daily confirmed cases.

Dart said that his fears about an in-person campaign rally stem from the spikes in COVID-19 cases in the region. He said that the surge in cases does not stem from an increase in testing, noting that the rates for testing have remained the same over the last few weeks.

“There was a funeral that had a large attendance and we’re finding quite a few cases from that,” Dart said. “But other than that, it’s broad community spread from being out in the community and not taking those necessary precautions we’ve been talking about.”

Dart acknowledged that reopening parts of the economy was appropriate. But he stressed the need for following social distancing protocols and eliminating “extended contact” between people in enclosed spaces.

“A large indoor rally with 19-20,000 people is a huge risk factor today in Tulsa, Oklahoma,” Dart said. “I want to make sure we can keep everyone in that building safe, including the president.”

The Trump campaign included a disclaimer about the coronavirus on the sign-up page for its Tulsa rally. The note said that those registering to attend do so while acknowledging that “an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19” exists at public gatherings. The campaign is not expected to require attendees wear masks or practice social distancing. 

The Trump campaign did not immediately return a request for comment from The Hill.

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