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The leading newspaper in eastern Oklahoma and the health director of Tulsa urged President Trump to postpone a scheduled campaign kickoff Saturday in a 19,000-seat arena in that city of 400,000 — his first in-person rally since the pandemic shutdown began in March.
“We don’t know why he chose Tulsa, but we can’t see any way that his visit will be good for the city,” the Tulsa World wrote in a Monday morning editorial. “Tulsa is still dealing with the challenges created by a pandemic. The city and state have authorized reopening, but that doesn’t make a mass indoor gathering of people pressed closely together and cheering a good idea. There is no treatment for COVID-19 and no vaccine. It will be our health care system that will have to deal with whatever effects follow.
“Tulsa will be largely alone in dealing with what happens at a time when the city’s budget resources have already been stretched thin,” the editorial continued, concluding: “When the president of the United States visits your city, it should be exciting. We think a Trump visit will be, but for a lot of the wrong reasons, and we can’t welcome it.”
The Tulsa City-County Health Department director, Bruce Dart, expressed a similar sentiment in an interview with the Tulsa World on Saturday, although he used more measured words.
“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,” Dart said. “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,” added Dart. “I wish we could postpone this to a time when the virus isn’t as large a concern as it is today.”
Tulsa County marked record high numbers of coronavirus infections on Friday and then again on Saturday. Dart said he didn’t believe the figures reflected an increase in testing. According to tracking information from the New York Times, Oklahoma is currently one of 22 states where cases are rising. More than 115,000 people in the U.S. have died from the virus, the most of any nation, and cases in America are rising while they fall in other major countries.
“They’ve done a great job with COVID, as you know, in the state of Oklahoma,” said Trump on Wednesday.
The BOK Center, where the rally will be held, has canceled every other event through the end of July.
The Trump campaign has been promoting the rally, with campaign manager Brad Parscale claiming over the weekend that 800,000 RSVPs had been received. On Monday morning, Trump tweeted that “Almost One Million” had requested tickets. Those attending the rally have been asked to sign a liability waiver acknowledging the “inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19.”
The rally was originally scheduled for June 19 but was delayed a day after outcry that Trump was holding a rally on Juneteenth, an American holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. Tulsa was the site of one of the most notorious episodes of racial violence in American history, in which hundreds of black people were killed and an entire neighborhood demolished, 99 years ago.
Doctors warn of the dangers of large, prolonged gatherings of unmasked people in an indoor space, especially if they are participating in activities that are typically done at rallies (i.e., cheering and singing). Early testing in Minneapolis and Seattle has shown limited transmissions from the Black Lives Matter protests, but those demonstrations took place outdoors with many participants covering their noses and mouths.
Sen. James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, said he would be attending the rally but was undecided about wearing a mask.
Parscale said Monday morning that anyone entering the arena would receive a temperature check, hand sanitizer and a mask. Earlier this year, Trump dismissed the idea of empty seats at a campaign event.
“I can’t imagine a rally where you have every fourth seat full. Every — every six seats are empty for every one that you have full. That wouldn’t look too good,” the president said in April.
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