Besieged by criticism for scheduling a campaign rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth, an observance of the end of U.S. slavery in a city notable for a historic outburst of racist violence, President Donald Trump on Friday relented and bumped the event back by one day.

But Tulsa’s top health official is urging the campaign to again postpone – not over politics but over public health. As novel coronavirus cases have set new daily records in Oklahoma in recent days, Tulsa Health Department Director Bruce Dart warned over the weekend that a rally expected to draw more than 19,000 Trump supporters could ignite a bigger crisis.

“Covid is here in Tulsa, it is transmitting very efficiently,” Dart told the Tulsa World on Saturday. “I wish we could postpone this to a time when the virus isn’t as large a concern as it is today.”

A Republican senator from Oklahoma took to the air on Sunday to argue that the rally will be safe, although the Trump campaign has asked attendees to sign waivers promising not to sue if they do get the virus that causes the disease covid-19.

“Everyone needs to take responsibility for their own health,” Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said on ABC’s “This Week,” adding that he intends to go to the rally.

Pushed by host George Stephanopoulos on how it would be possible to practice social distancing in a jammed arena, Lankford said, “That will be up to city of Tulsa, the governor of Oklahoma and the Trump team itself to be able to figure out how they want to manage that.”

The conflict hints at the significant challenges of campaigning during a pandemic, a particularly acute problem for Trump, who has built a movement centered on the giant gatherings that health officials warn are among the riskiest events for transmitting the coronavirus. Trump has also consistently declined to wear a face mask in public and has criticized others for doing so. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged organizers of large gatherings that involve shouting, chanting or singing to “strongly encourage” attendees use cloth face coverings to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

Dart, Tulsa’s health director, said his concern had nothing to do with Trump in particular.

“I think it’s an honor for Tulsa to have a sitting president want to come and visit our community,” he said, “but not during a pandemic.”

While coronavirus infections and deaths have been relatively low in both Tulsa and Oklahoma, which has recorded 359 deaths and more than 8,200 cases as of this weekend, the numbers have been rising recently. Tulsa reported 82 new cases on Saturday, a new daily high, the Associated Press reported. While a funeral and some other big gatherings account for part of the recent spike, Dart said, most cases are due to “broad community spread” in a state that has ended virtually all pandemic restrictions.

That’s a dangerous recipe for a massive event like a Trump rally, Dart said.

“A large indoor rally with 19-20,000 people is a huge risk factor today in Tulsa, Oklahoma,” Dart told the World. “I want to make sure we can keep everyone in that building safe, including the president.”

Among the riskiest places to contract the disease, which has now killed at least 113,000 Americans, are enclosed spaces where social distancing is difficult, health officials say. Shouting and singing – both commonplace at Trump’s raucous rallies – also seem to help spread the disease. Tulsa’s BOK Center, the site of the rally, has canceled or postponed all other events until July 30 over coronavirus concerns.

Going to Trump’s Tulsa rally is “an extraordinarily dangerous move for the people participating and the people who may know them and love them and see them afterward,” Ashish K. Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told the AP.

The Tulsa World added its voice to those concerns on Sunday, warning in an editorial that “this is the wrong time” for a presidential visit.

“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,” the paper’s editorial board wrote. “The public health concern would apply whether it were Donald Trump, Joe Biden or anyone else who was planning a mass rally at the BOK. This is the wrong time.”

Trump’s campaign didn’t immediately respond to a message from The Washington Post early on Monday about its safety plans for the rally.

Lankford argued that Oklahoma’s relatively low coronavirus infection numbers show that the state is ready to host Trump’s rally, telling Stephanopoulos that “we’re ahead of a lot of other parts of the country in trying to defeat coronavirus.” But Lankford did suggest that anyone particularly at risk from the virus should stay away from the event.

On CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow urged all Americans to follow safety guidelines, saying, “Social distancing must be observed. Face coverings in key places must be observed.”

Does that also apply to people at Trump’s rally, host Jake Tapper asked?

“Well, OK,” Kudlow said. “Probably so.”


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