President Donald Trump and the GOP are not allowing rising coronavirus infections in Florida or strong local opposition deter planning for the president's GOP nomination victory speech in Jacksonville.
Florida reported a new single-day high of almost 9,000 COVID-19 cases on Friday, bringing the state total to nearly 123,000 confirmed cases.
As cases rapidly rise, a majority of voters in Duval County, where Jacksonville is, have expressed opposition to the convention taking place in the Florida city.
The RNC said it "looks forward to holding a safe event in Jacksonville," adding that safety precautions will be in place that "will be adapted based on the situation at the time of the event."
Neither the RNC nor the GOP mayor of Jacksonville would commit to making mask wearing mandatory at the convention.
Florida has emerged as a coronavirus hot spot, reporting a new single-day high of nearly 9,000 cases on Friday, but that's not deterring President Donald Trump and the Republican Party from moving full steam ahead with planning for his GOP nomination victory speech in Jacksonville.
The Republican National Committee and the GOP mayor of Jacksonville both expressed confidence they could pull off the August convention without a hitch, despite the fact the COVID-19 outbreak in the Sunshine State appears to be spiraling out of control, which has catalyzed strong local opposition to the convention taking place in the Florida city.
There are nearly 123,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Florida, and Duval County, where Jacksonville is, added a county record of 447 cases on Friday. Residents have expressed major reservations about the GOP convention taking place in their city.
A majority of Duval County voters in a University of North Florida poll (58%) opposed Jacksonville hosting the convention, and 71% said they were very or somewhat worried about COVID-19 transmissions at the Republican event. A group called March on the RNC plans to hold an anti-Trump rally during the convention, according to News4Jax, and organizers expect thousands to attend.
The Republican mayor of Jacksonville, Lenny Curry, does not seem particularly concerned about the opposition to the convention occurring in his city.
"The mayor doesn't make policy decisions based on polling, especially those conducted over email," Jordan Elsbury, the Jacksonville mayor's chief of staff, told Insider in regard to the University of North Florida poll. FiveThirtyEight's pollster ratings gives the University of North Florida an A/B grade.
"We are confident the city of Jacksonville can host world-class events in a safe and responsible way and will continue to monitor data over the coming months as we approach the event," Elsbury said. "We are currently working/planning with all event stakeholders to insure a safe and successful event."
Public-health experts have repeatedly warned against large gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic, expressing concerns that such events could serve as superspreaders. The GOP convention is set to be held inside the 15,000-person VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.
Elsbury, when asked whether Curry would consider making mask wearing mandatory for the convention, said the mayor was "asking all citizens to exercise personal responsibility and wear masks in public." Though a growing body of research suggests that face masks prevent coronavirus transmission, Trump has politicized the issue and refused to wear one. The president recently suggested, without evidence, that some Americans are wearing masks during the coronavirus pandemic to express their disapproval of him and not for public-health purposes.
Trump will address his supporters on the 60th anniversary of a brutal Ku Klux Klan attack on Black protesters in Jacksonville known as "Ax Handle Saturday." Elsbury said the mayor's office was not concerned that an event remembering the attack, which was planned before Trump's speech was moved to Jacksonville, would clash with the convention in any way.
Jacksonville is about 31% Black, and the GOP convention is scheduled to occur during a summer in which the US has already seen massive protests against racism and police brutality, which have morphed into an anti-Trump movement in many ways. Curry earlier this month was met with chants of "No RNC! No RNC!" as he marched alongside peaceful protesters, CNN reported.
The Republican National Convention was originally set to take place in full in Charlotte, North Carolina. The decision to move the president's speech to Jacksonville came after Trump butted heads with North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, over social-distancing guidelines for the event. The president wanted a packed house and rejected measures Cooper insisted on to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Though Trump's speech is now set to occur in Jacksonville, the official party business of the GOP is still slated to take place in Charlotte.
"The RNC looks forward to holding a safe event in Jacksonville to celebrate the re-nomination of President Trump and Vice President Pence," an RNC spokesperson said in a statement to Insider. "There will be safety precautions in place that will be adapted based on the situation at the time of the event. These include but are not limited to temperature checks, available PPE, aggressive sanitizing protocols, available COVID-19 testing, and regular phone calls and coordination with federal, state, and local health officials."
The spokesperson said more details would be announced in the coming weeks. The RNC did not address a question on the local opposition to the convention taking place in the Florida city, nor did it respond when asked whether wearing masks would be mandatory for the event.
The Trump campaign deferred to the RNC on all matters pertaining to the convention.
Trump held his first campaign rally since the coronavirus pandemic began on Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma. About 6,200 people attended the event in a venue capable of holding 19,000 people. This shocked and enraged the president, The New York Times reported, and his campaign has said that protesters blocked people from attending the rally, without specifying how many were turned away. Before the rally in Tulsa, local health officials urged residents who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 to not attend and remain at home.
The president's campaign is in trouble. Recent polling has shown former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, with a double-digit lead over Trump, whose overall approval rating has also dropped sharply between his botched responses to COVID-19 and the nationwide anti-racism movement.
While the convention is still weeks away, Trump and his allies appear to be looking to the event as an opportunity to give his campaign some much-needed momentum — even as questions remain as to whether it can safely occur.
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