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Infectious disease expert: Trump Mount Rushmore event is 'beyond irresponsible' and 'the behavior of a cult leader'
Celine Gounder, a prominent infectious diseases specialist and epidemiologist, said Friday that President Trump's Fourth of July celebration at Mount Rushmore is "beyond irresponsible" as the nation sees record-breaking outbreaks of the novel coronavirus.
"I'm highly concerned. This is beyond irresponsible," Gounder, CNN's medical analyst, said when asked what she thought of the Friday evening event.
"This is the behavior of a cult leader who is jumping off the cliff, except he's jumping off into a safety net where he has protections around him. People around him are being tested. He's being tested on a regular basis. While he asks his followers to jump off a cliff into nothing," she continued. "I mean, this is extremely dangerous behavior and unfortunately, this has become so politicized where you abide by public health and scientific recommendations on the basis of your political beliefs not based on the science. And people are really going to be harmed as a result of this."
Trump will attend a fireworks display at Mount Rushmore on Friday, where thousands are expected to gather without masks or social distancing requirements. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) also confirmed this week that social distancing would not be enforced at the event.
Gounder joins other health experts who have expressed concerns that the holiday celebrations will be a breeding ground for COVID-19 cases at a time when many states are seeing back-to-back days of record-breaking case numbers.
Meanwhile, Indigenous leaders in the area - which was sacred land to local tribes before gold was discovered and Native Americans were forced off the land - have also expressed concerns over the coronavirus, and some have even called for the removal of the Mount Rushmore monument altogether.
"Nothing stands as a greater reminder to the Great Sioux Nation of a country that cannot keep a promise or treaty than the faces carved into our sacred land on what the United States calls Mount Rushmore," Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier said in a statement.
Wildfire experts are also worried the event has more than a 60 percent chance of causing a forest fire.
"Burning debris, the burning embers and unexploded shells fall into a ponderosa pine forest and ponderosa pine is extremely flammable," Bill Gabbert, former fire management officer for Mount Rushmore and six other national parks in the region, told the Rapid City Journal. "Shooting fireworks over a ponderosa pine forest, or any flammable vegetation, is ill advised and should not be done. Period."