Trump Ramps Up Rallies, Bucking Health Guidelines as Virus Rages

President Donald Trump is forging ahead with a breakneck pace of rallies in battleground states during the final days of his re-election campaign, defying public-health guidelines as a wave of new coronavirus cases smacks the U.S.

Trump will stage six rallies over the next three days in Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina and New Hampshire as he rushes to make up ground on Democratic nominee Joe Biden. He’s expected to draw thousands of unmasked supporters to each one, running the risk of seeding new outbreaks as virus cases hit levels unseen since the summer.

The president’s defiance of his own government’s recommendations on how to prevent the spread of Covid-19 sums up his predicament with voters as the clock ticks down to Nov. 3: His struggles are linked to his poorly rated virus response, but he has shown no willingness to change his attitude toward the pandemic.

Other than a few select sporting events — includingMajor League Baseball’s World Series, someNational Football League and college football games, and outdoor protests — virtually no one in the U.S. but Trump routinely gathers such large groups of people together while doing so little to enforce public-health precautions.

Trump’s campaign says its precautionary measures include holding the events mostly outdoors, handing out masks and deploying hand sanitizer. But the rallies still pose a transmission risk, particularly because there’s no social distancing, few participants actually wear their masks and many people cheer and yell, which speeds the virus’ spread, according Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

“The president, for the most part, has been evading the severity or the implications of the pandemic. This is just more evidence,” said Adalja. “There are ways to have these rallies in a safer manner.”

‘Tired of Covid’

The U.S. saw 71,671 new cases on Thursday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, the highest one-day total since the outbreak reached its peak in July. The new surge ishitting key battleground states particularly hard.

Months after Trump’s advisers attempted to reset his campaign by placing a greater focus on his virus response, the president has all but said he is ready to move on.

“People are tired of Covid. I have the biggest rallies I’ve ever had, and we have Covid,” Trumpsaid Monday during a call with campaign staff.

“People are saying, ‘whatever, just leave us alone.’ They’re tired of it. People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots,” he said, referring to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci.

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After the president said during Thursday’s debate that Americans “are learning to live with it,” Biden countered that “people are learning to die with it,” pointing to the U.S.’s world-worst 220,000 deaths from Covid-19.

Wisconsin, where Trump will stage a rally on Saturday, had America’s fourth-worst outbreak by per-capita cases in the week ending Oct. 18. Florida, Arizona, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Michigan — all places Trump has rallied or plans to rally in recent days — have all seen difficult stretches with cases rising again in recent weeks.

The president told reporters on Monday he may ramp up his schedule to five rallies per day during the final two or three days of the race. Trump on Friday again made a mockery of mask-wearing, a step recommended by his own administration, ridiculing a reporter for wearing one inside the Oval Office.

Pictures of the event, where Trump announced a peace agreement between Israel and Sudan, showed more than a dozen men standing shoulder-to-shoulder around the president’s desk without masks, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser.

Morgan Ortagus, a State Department spokeswoman who is pregnant, was one of the only people covering their faces in the pictures.

‘Loyalty Test’

Lip service is paid to mask-wearing at Trump’s rallies, where attendees seated behind the president in view of cameras largely use them. But lack of masks among his aides and elsewhere in his rally crowds is a result of the president’s repeated efforts to downplay the threat posed by the virus, said Paula Cannon, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine.

“He’s made it a loyalty test, and to me, that’s tantamount to murder. That’s unforgivable,” said Cannon. “By his actions and dis-encouragement, he’s actively contributing to the spread of this virus and to the illness, death and misery that can result from Covid infections.”

Trump’s rallies go against the spirit, if not the letter, of policies in states and counties the president plans to visit in the coming days, as well asCenters for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that say large, in-person gatherings present thehighest risk for spreading Covid-19.

The famed Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, which drew hundreds of thousands of people in August, is linked to more than 330 coronavirus cases a of mid-September, according to a Washington Post report that found it was likely responsible for far more infections across the upper Midwest.

The president is staging rallies Friday at The Villages, Florida, a community designed for people age 55 and older, who are at higher risk for severe illness from the virus, and in Pensacola. A Saturday rally will be held in Waukesha, Wisconsin, which reported 206 new cases on Thursday and is located in a congressional district considered a hot zone, according to statistics compiled by the Brown University School of Public Health.

He’ll also rally in Ohio and North Carolina on Saturday, then in New Hampshire on Sunday.

Dory MacMilllan, a spokeswoman for North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, said the rallies increase the risk of an outbreak, even if they technically abide by the state’s rules.

Violating Guidelines

“When elected leaders violate the White House coronavirus guidelines, especially with large maskless crowds that sit and stand closely together for hours, they put people’s health at risk,” MacMillan said in an emailed statement. “They’re making it harder for North Carolina to prevent the spread of this virus.”

All of the areas except Florida have imposed limits on the size of public events or mask mandates or both, though they generally include First Amendment exceptions.

The office of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine declined to comment on Trump’s planned rally in the state. Governors’ offices in Florida, New Hampshire and Wisconsin did not respond to requests for comment.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended the president’s right to hold rallies, pointing to protests that occurred over the summer as well a Women’s March last weekend in Washington.

“You have a right to go to a political rally in this country,” she told reporters at the White House. “Ultimately, it’s the choice of the American people whether to come out and engage in political speech as the First Amendment allows them to do.”

Cannon called that a “false equivalency” because leaders of protest marches have been more adamant that participants wear masks than the president has with his supporters.

“Yes, they’re both large rallies but the message from the leadership about what you should be doing could not be starker, I think, in the two events,” she said.

— With assistance by Mario Parker

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