President Donald Trump boasted about the size of the crowd at his upcoming Tulsa, Oklahoma, campaign rally on Friday, as Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued strong warnings about congregating in large groups.
“We have already had ticket requests in excess of 200,000 people,” the president wrote on Twitter, as he announced the event would be postponed by a day to keep it from falling on Juneteenth. “I look forward to seeing everyone in Oklahoma!”
Trump’s presidential campaign manager Brad Parscale later boasted that the number of registrations had topped 300,000 people, calling the rally “the hottest ticket ever.”
But hours before, Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the top scientist on the federal coronavirus task force, reminded the public that large crowds are inherently “risky” and a “danger” for coronavirus transmission. And the CDC also released guidance cautioning against congregating in groups, among other things, on Friday.
The divergence between Trump’s campaign manager and his top federal public health official on the wisdom of joining a crowd is familiar territory: the president has consistently encouraged the public to disregard federal guidelines and scientific consensus on avoiding exposure to the coronavirus. While in the past it was part of an agenda to encourage people to begin participating in the economy again, in this instance it appears that Trump’s campaign is eager to use the spectacle of an excited crowd to whip up excitement for his reelection bid.
Fauci warned against such gatherings in an interview with ABC News’s Jonathan Karl, saying crowds in any form pose a risk to the public — including recent protests.
“It’s a danger to the people who are trying to control the demonstration, and it’s a danger to the people who are demonstrating,” Fauci said. “So at the end of the day, it is a risky procedure.”
When asked if what he said applied to Trump’s decision to start campaign rallies again next week, Fauci said yes, telling Karl, “I am consistent. I stick by what I say.”
“[The] best way that you can avoid — either acquiring or transmitting infection — is to avoid crowded places, to wear a mask whenever you’re outside,” Fauci said. “And if you can do both, avoid the congregation of people and do the mask, that’s great.”
The expert also suggested Americans should be in crowds only when there is no other choice: “If you’re going to be in a situation where, beyond your control there’s a lot of people around you, make sure you wear a mask,” Fauci added.
Fauci’s advice followed the CDC’s release of new guidelines on Friday meant to help people manage exposure to the coronavirus as states reopen businesses and relax social distancing protocols across the nation. The guidelines note that taking part in group activities for extended periods of time around people who aren’t wearing masks or social distancing increases the risk of infection, and of spreading Covid-19.
But this guidance appears to have been disregarded by the president, who is set to resume densely packed campaign rallies next week. The only acknowledgement of the risks involved with attending the rally is in the sign-up form for tickets.
That form includes a disclaimer that releases the Trump campaign and the event’s hosts from liability for exposure to coronavirus: “By attending the Rally, you and any guests voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19 and agree not to hold Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.; BOK Center; ASM Global; or any of their affiliates, directors, officers, employees, agents, contractors, or volunteers liable for any illness or injury,” the statement says.
Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager, has pushed aggressively on social media for people to sign up for seats for Trump’s rally at an arena in Tulsa next week, promising an “epic” event. He also said the campaign is contemplating a second event in the city to allow “more people to be with” Trump.
It’s unclear how many people will actually be allowed into the arena, which has a listed seating capacity of over 19,000, or how large a second venue might be. It’s also unclear what kind of measures will be taken to reduce the risks that accompany being in a crowd. Thus far, campaign officials have discussed providing hand sanitizer on-site.
Epidemiologists have pointed out that chanting and shouting are among the activities most likely to increase the likelihood of transmission, particularly if people aren’t wearing masks. Trump himself has declined to wear a mask in public; in general, polls have shown Republicans are far less likely to wear masks in public than Democrats or independents.