President Trump is set to hold a rally Saturday evening inside the 19,199-seat Bank of Oklahoma Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The country is still in the middle of a historic pandemic. Cases are spiking in Oklahoma. And there’s no treatment for the disease or vaccine against it.
The rally is a recipe for disaster. Here are the three key ingredients:
An indoor event. Instead of holding the event outdoors, it is being held indoors in a center that regularly crowds people together for concerts and sporting events.
No physical distancing. The president has touted that his campaign has already received more than one million requests for seats. And he has mentioned that only 22,000 people (or even up to 40,000 if he can get the adjacent convention hall) will be allowed to attend. Someone needs to check that math because 22,000 — already 2,800 people above capacity — signifies there will be no physical distancing in place.
No masks. Trump has also reported that those attending the rally will not be required to wear face masks.
With all this bravado, it is curious that those who plan to attend must sign a waiver that the White House will not be held liable if they fall ill with Covid-19.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which created categories to evaluate the “riskiness” of activities, having a mass gathering in an indoor venue without wearing face coverings and being unable to practice physical distancing is the highest possible risk.
In a little over 100 days, 2.1 million Americans have been diagnosed with Covid-19, and nearly 120,000 deaths. Amid the fear and frustration, a bright spot has been emerging in the Northeast, where Covid-19 cases in New York and surrounding states have been steadily trending downward. One key reason for this is the stay-at-home period begun on March 23 in New York State followed by an incremental phased approach to re-opening which started on May 15.
Even the economy is showing signs of improvement as the Dow Jones surpassed 26,000 on June 16. We are making progress, yet these signs of improvement will quickly disappear if the number of daily cases and hospitalizations begin to rise again across the rest of the nation.
President Trump’s decision to hold a rally in a crowded indoor venue is misguided. It sets the stage for a high-risk situation that can harm thousands in one fell swoop — not to mention their thousands of contacts.
It is, however, a reflection of the growing complacency of some throughout the country, which has caused states such as Arizona, Tennessee, Texas, and California to see an uptake in daily cases. As of June 16, more than 20 states are seeing daily increases in the number of new cases. Cases can increase due to engaging in large gatherings, not wearing masks properly or not wearing them at all and not keeping six feet distance. Disregard for physical distance and wearing face coverings has been seen in Nashville, New York City, and San Marcos, Texas, to list just a few examples. The efforts of the hard work over the past few months are being lost due to overzealous leaders and individuals who are not keeping their guard up.
The protests and mass gatherings that took place in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis are also worrisome from a public health perspective. Many people taking part in these events have not been wearing face coverings, meaning the gatherings could serve as super-spreader events and cause an increase in Covid-19 cases where they take place.
Forward-minded elected officials have encouraged protesters to get tested as soon as possible. This is a good idea, but it doesn’t prevent protesters from getting Covid-19. The utility of such testing is to identify those who were infected with the virus so they can self-quarantine and not spread it to others. It’s also important to keep in mind that getting a diagnostic test one day after protesting is futile — appropriate time needs to pass in order to get accurate results. This monitoring for when to get tested has become even more complicated as the CDC has recently reported that 35% of people who test positive for Covid-19 do not have any symptoms.
The underlying theme here is that you cannot know who is infectious. So we all need to take proactive measures that have been proven to offer protection against the novel coronavirus. Ignore them at your peril.
George W. Contreras is an assistant professor at the Institute of Public Health and assistant director of the Center for Disaster Medicine at New York Medical College, adjunct associate professor at John Jay College, adjunct professor at Metropolitan College of New York, and a paramedic in New York City.