The idea of 20,000 people traveling from all parts of the United States to pack themselves into an arena amid an outbreak of a highly communicable, deadly disease that spreads especially efficiently indoors might sound ill-advised to most of us. But most of us are not President Donald Trump.
Ahead of the coronavirus pandemic, the GOP planned to have its 2020 Republican National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. For obvious reasons, that’s no longer a sure thing — and Trump isn’t coping well with the uncertainty.
Despite new coronavirus cases continuing to show an upward trajectory in the state, Trump on Monday demanded immediate assurances from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper that more than 20,000 people will be allowed to pack into Charlotte’s Spectrum Center for the RNC in August.
In a string of tweets, Trump threatened that without such a guarantee, “We will be reluctantly forced to find, with all of the jobs and economic development it brings, another Republican National Convention site.”
“Unfortunately, Democrat Governor, @RoyCooperNC is still in Shutdown mood & unable to guarantee that by August we will be allowed full attendance in the Arena,” Trump wrote, seemingly ignoring the fact that it is impossible for Cooper to provide a specific date by which the coronavirus will no longer be a threat.
“In other words, we would be spending millions of dollars building the Arena to a very high standard without even knowing if the Democrat Governor would allow the Republican Party to fully occupy the space,” Trump added.
I love the Great State of North Carolina, so much so that I insisted on having the Republican National Convention in Charlotte at the end of August. Unfortunately, Democrat Governor, @RoyCooperNC is still in Shutdown mood & unable to guarantee that by August we will be allowed…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 25, 2020
Vice President Mike Pence sounded the same theme during an interview on Monday’s installment of Fox & Friends, mentioning Florida, Georgia, and Texas — all states with Republican governors — as possible sites for a relocated RNC.
Here’s Mike Pence on Fox & Friends today threatening to move the RNC unless North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) moves quicker to reopen the state amid the coronavirus pandemic pic.twitter.com/DMU70HfIH1
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 25, 2020
Cooper has good reason to be cautious. For one, his state’s coronavirus outbreak is not yet under control — in fact, it isn’t even clearly trending in the right direction.
According to data compiled by the New York Times, the 1,070 new cases reported in the state on Saturday constituted a single-day high. Some of that is due to increased testing, but the state’s recent single-day positivity rate of 9 percent is still significantly above the 5 percent number the World Health Organization has identified as the minimum standard for reopening. (According to the Raleigh News & Observer, 6.9 percent of all tests completed in the state so far
Cooper is moving forward anyway. Under pressure from local Republicans, he transitioned the state last Friday to a “Safer at Home” order that allows some businesses to reopen, but still limits gatherings to 25 people or fewer in most circumstances. (In an illustration of the pushback he’s facing, Ace Speedway in Alamance County disregarded Cooper’s order by packing thousands of people into the bleachers for races last Friday. The local sheriff refused to intervene, calling Cooper’s order “unconstitutional.”)
So while it’s not totally unreasonable to believe the coronavirus will be somewhat under control by late August, it’s unlikely that it will be so under control that having a mass gathering on the scale of the RNC will make sense. But Trump, as he is wont to do, is engaged in wishful thinking.
“Relying on data and science” is now akin to an attack on the president
In response to Trump’s tweets on Monday, Cooper’s office released a statement saying that officials are “relying on data and science to protect our state’s public health and safety.” That may read like a rebuke to Trump, who at this point is pretending like the virus doesn’t exist — but you don’t even really need a nuanced understanding of science or data to understand why holding the RNC as if a pandemic isn’t happening isn’t a great idea.
Studies have shown that the virus spreads especially easily indoors, so packing 20,000 cheering people into an arena where they likely will be spraying respiratory droplets (believed to be one of the chief vehicles for Covid-19 spread) onto each other could easily become a vector for the disease. This is why no major sports leagues in the United States plan to have games with fans in attendance this summer. Not only that, but since people travel from all over the country for the RNC, it could end up igniting outbreaks elsewhere.
Testing every attendee wouldn’t mitigate the risk, as coronavirus tests are far from perfectly accurate. And because it can take a week or longer for symptoms to emerge, someone could in theory contract coronavirus on an airplane on their way to Charlotte, test negative the next day, and then unknowingly spread the virus at the RNC.
Trump, however, either doesn’t seem to get how communicable disease work or doesn’t care. He has made it abundantly clear that he’s more concerned about doing everything possible to resuscitate the economy ahead of November’s election than he is about slowing the spread of the coronavirus. And if he can take shots at a Democratic governor while pushing for a full reopening of businesses, even better.
Part of the idea behind having the RNC in Charlotte in the first place is that North Carolina is a key state for Trump’s reelection hopes. He defeated Hillary Clinton by 3.7 percent there in 2016, but polling now shows him in a dead heat with presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. So it makes strategic sense that he would want to energize the state’s Republican base — doing so at the potential expense of that base’s health does not, however.
That’s a reality the Democratic party has begun to grapple with, having planned on having its convention in the battleground state of Wisconsin. Trump’s push for a normal RNC stands in stark contrast to Biden, who has acknowledged that a virtual Democratic National Convention may end up being a necessity. Trump, however, is primarily concerned with quickly turning the page on a pandemic that he was unprepared for — and that now has killed nearly 100,000 Americans — as quickly as possible.
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