New daily coronavirus cases and deaths were trending upward in North Carolina heading into Labor Day weekend. But you certainly wouldn’t know that by watching President Donald Trump’s rally at Smith Reynolds Airport in Winston-Salem on Tuesday.
Trump claimed during his speech that there were 15,000 people there. That was an exaggeration, but Jonah Kaplan of ABC 11 in Raleigh reported that the crowd of several thousand was the largest he’d seen in the state since the beginning of the pandemic.
While the science about coronavirus transmission at large outdoor events remains somewhat unsettled, a crowd of this size assembling during a pandemic would be risky no matter what. But making matters worse was the fact that attendees weren’t distancing from one another. Very few people wore masks, violating the state’s mask requirement.
Hello from Winston-Salem, NC where hundreds await @realDonaldTrump at an outdoor rally. Attendees have their temperature checked as they arrive, & signs encourage mask-wearing. I’d say ~10% are wearing masks. No distancing to speak of. Outdoor events in NC are capped at 50 people pic.twitter.com/zKKMQa61v4
— Garrett Haake (@GarrettHaake) September 8, 2020
Outdoor events in North Carolina are supposed to be capped at 50 people. Trump, however, made a mockery of Gov. Roy Cooper (D) in particular and public health guidelines in general.
“We call you peaceful protesters. You know why?” he told his audience. “Because they have rules in these Democrat-run states that if you campaign you can’t have more than five people. They did that for me.”
Trump: “We call you peaceful protesters. You know why? Because they have rules in these Democrat-run states that if you campaign you can’t have more than 5 people. They did that for me.” pic.twitter.com/Nr7JBL6re4
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 8, 2020
Unsurprisingly, the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t a major focus of Trump’s speech. Instead, he lied about the economy, claiming “we’ve never had so many jobs” when in fact there are fewer jobs in the country right now than when he took office; whined about how the media treats him (“You know, they used to say Abraham Lincoln got the worst press. I said, there’s no way he got worse than me.”), and mispronounced Kamala Harris’s name while repeating it over and over like some sort of incantation.
But when he did talk about the pandemic that has now claimed almost 190,000 American lives — including nearly 3,000 in North Carolina — Trump made clear that his thinking hasn’t really evolved since last February and March, when he ignored warnings from public health experts and repeatedly insisted the pandemic would go away on its own.
Trump is trying to construct an alternate reality where the coronavirus is little more than a historical footnote
New daily coronavirus cases in the US are currently hovering around 40,000. Daily deaths are slowly trending downward from their second-wave peak in early August but have still been over 1,000 three days already this month.
In short, the coronavirus isn’t anywhere near under control. Yet on Tuesday, Trump described the pandemic as all but over and called on all governors to immediately reopen their economies and schools to start in-person instruction.
“Your state should be open,” Trump said to wild cheers. “Even if you look statistically — it’s you, it’s Michigan, it’s a couple of others … they wanna open. They wanna have football. They wanna have their schools open. And it’s a shame what’s going on.”
Trump went on to characterize public health measures that officials are using to try to slow the spread of coronavirus as a political conspiracy against him.
“I’ll tell you what — on November 4, every one of those states will be open,” Trump said. “They’re doing it for political reasons. They think that by hurting the economy, by keeping all these store owners and all these people that work in shops and stores and buildings and offices, they think by keeping them and hurting them, they’re hurting the economy.”
Even with coronavirus cases rising in a number of states, Trump calls for all Democratic governors to fully reopen their schools and economies. He also suggests public health measures are part of a political conspiracy against him. pic.twitter.com/asXJa1qjsQ
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 8, 2020
In reality, what’s hurting the economy is the combination of the pandemic and the inability or unwillingness of politicians like Trump to get it under control. And it’s possible the rally in North Carolina — which was at least the fourth event in recent weeks that Trump held in front of a packed audience without social distancing and with very few masks — will end up doing harm as well.
The Winston-Salem rally came just hours after the release of a study by the Center for Health Economics & Policy Studies at San Diego State University that found that last month’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally not only could have infected hundreds of thousands of people with the virus, but will potentially involve more than $12 billion in health care costs. Trump’s latest rally in North Carolina wasn’t nearly as large as Sturgis, but if even a few of the people in attendance were infected with the virus, they could have spread it to others who will then take it back to their communities, possibly seeding future outbreaks.
Trump should know better
The recent batch of Trump rallies were the first since June 20, when he held one at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that ended up being a disaster. The Trump campaign’s decision to ignore warnings from public health experts likely fueled a spike in coronavirus cases in the area.
“In the past few days, we’ve seen almost 500 new cases, and we had several large events just over two weeks ago, so I guess we just connect the dots,” Tulsa City/County Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart said days after the rally, according to the Associated Press.
Herman Cain, a prominent Trump supporter who was photographed at the rally without a mask, contracted Covid-19 after the rally and died. Though Cain’s travel schedule makes it impossible to know exactly where and when he became infected, the rally was symptomatic of the broader problem. Instead of doing everything possible to keep people safe, Trump campaign workers were filmed removing thousands of “Do Not Sit Here, Please!” stickers meant to encourage rallygoers to social distance.
On June 20, 32,025 new coronavirus cases were reported in the country. On September 6, 31,061 were reported. In short, the state of the pandemic is basically unimproved — and things could get worse in the weeks to come as schools reopen.
What has changed, however, is the proximity to November’s election. Trump has clearly calculated that in crucial states like North Carolina, his best strategy is to declare mission accomplished when it comes to the coronavirus and hope his supporters continue to buy what he’s selling.
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