Crime Scenes: Trump’s Super-Spreader Rallies

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on Sept. 30, 2020.

On February 7, Donald Trump confessed to knowing the truth about the coronavirus.

“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flusThis is deadly stuff,” he admitted to journalist Bob Woodward. (Emphasis supplied) Here’s the tape:

Then he lied to the public for months because the truth didn’t fit his re-election campaign message that all would soon be well. The result: America has only about four percent of the world’s population but more than 20 percent of worldwide deaths from COVID-19.

Trump is now holding super-spreader campaign rallies that ignore social distancing and face masks — the nation’s most formidable weapons in fighting the virus. To Trump, those public health measures are a nuisance because they remind people that the pandemic is still ravaging the country. To the coronavirus, Trump’s rallies are gifts that keeps on giving.

Tulsa, Oklahoma

June 13-20: In the days preceding Trump’s first pandemic-era rally, COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in Oklahoma, especially Tulsa, are soaring. In fact, six White House staffers in the state for rally preparations (including two secret service agents) test positive for the virus.

June 20: Shortly before Trump’s rally begins, Trump staffers concerned about his desire for good campaign crowd optics remove social distancing stickers that the venue’s management had placed on every other seat to keep them open. More than 6,000 people attend the indoor event. Defying guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, most are not wearing masks or social distancing, despite ample space for the latter. Among the attendees is Trump surrogate Herman Cain, 74, who co-chairs Black Voices for Trump. Cain is not wearing a mask.

Aftermath: New COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Tulsa soar, which the Tulsa Health Department attributes to Trump’s rally. On July 2, Herman Cain is hospitalized with COVID-19. Less than a month later, he dies from the infection.

Phoenix, Arizona

June 23: As Arizona becomes a COVID-19 hotspot, Trump holds an indoor rally at a megachurch.

Number of attendees: 3,000. No social distancing. Few masks.

Aftermath: Hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 rise, peaking in mid-July, consistent with a rally-induced surge.

Freeland, Michigan

Sept. 10: After a three-month pause, Trump resumes campaign rallies in Michigan, which requires face masks in “crowded outdoor spaces” and whose governor urges social distancing. During his appearance, Trump calls on the governor to “open up” the state.

Number of attendees: Between 5,000 and 10,000. No social distancing. Few masks.

Aftermath: On September  24, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reports the first known COVID-19 case involving someone who attended Trump’s rally. The department’s spokesperson cautions that more cases could come: “Outbreaks are not necessarily determined within 14 days of when exposure occurred. It takes time for people to be tested and for local health department to complete case investigations.”

Shoes Waiting to Drop

As in Freeland, Michigan, public health officials in the following cities await the aftermath of recent Trump rallies where he failed to honor CDC, state and local guidelines aimed at limiting the spread of the virus.

Minden, Nevada

Sept. 12: Trump supporters pack the Minden-Tahoe airport tarmac for Trump’s rally, which violates the state’s months-long ban on gatherings of more than 50 people.

Number of attendees: More than 5,000. No social distancing. Few masks.

Henderson, Nevada

Sept. 13: Trump holds an indoor rally. Asked whether he is concerned about the health risks, Trump says, “I’m on a stage and it’s very far away. And so I’m not at all concerned.”

Number of attendees: Several thousand. No social distancing. Only those standing behind Trump are required to wear masks because their faces would appear on television as he spoke.

Phoenix, Arizona

Sept. 14: Defying a Maricopa County order requiring face masks, Trump holds an indoor rally.

Number of attendees: Several hundred. No social distancing. Few masks.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sept. 15: At a nationally televised town hall, an audience member confronts Trump on his disregard for the public’s health, saying, “The wearing of masks has proven to lessen the spread of Covid. Why don’t you support a national mask-wearing mandate? Why don’t you wear a mask more often?”

In response, Trump lies: “Well, I do wear them when I have to and when I’m in hospitals and other locations.” Then he says, “A lot of people don’t want to wear masks.” Pressed to name them, he responds, “Waiters.”

The next day, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield calls masks a more potent weapon against the virus than a vaccine. Trump immediately attacks him: “As far as the mask is concerned, he made a mistake.” 

Mosinee, Wisconsin

Sept. 17: In Marathon County, which is experiencing a record outbreak of COVID-19 cases, Trump holds a rally that violates the state’s social distancing and face mask guidance.

Number of attendees: 5,000. No social distancing. Few masks. 

Bemidji, Minnesota 

Sept. 18: COVID-19 cases are spiking and hospitalizations are trending upward. Nevertheless, Trump defies Minnesota’s 250-person limit for large gatherings in the state.

Number of attendees: Several thousand. No social distancing. Few masks.

Fayetteville, North Carolina

Sept. 19: With new COVID-19 infections averaging more than 1,000 per day and a statewide face mask requirement in effect, Trump holds a rally

Number of attendees: Several thousand. No social distancing. Few masks.

Swanton, Ohio

Sept. 21: As COVID-19 infections in Ohio remain stubbornly high and an outdoor face mask requirement remains in effect whenever six-foot social distancing is not possible, Trump holds a rally outside Toledo.

Number of attendees: Several thousand. No social distancing. Few masks.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Sept. 22: Violating state face mask requirements and restrictions on gatherings of more than 250 people, Trump holds a rally where he mocks former Vice President Joe Biden for wearing a face mask.

Number of attendees: Several thousand. No social distancing. Few masks.

Jacksonville, Florida 

Sept. 24: As Trump holds a rally there, Florida is averaging more than 2,500 new COVID-19 infections per day.

Number of attendees: Several thousand. No social distancing. Few masks.

Newport News, Virginia

Sept. 25: Hours before Trump’s rally, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and his wife test positive for COVID-19. Defying the governor’s executive order that bans gatherings of more than 250 people and the Virginia Department of Public Health’s admonition that the planned rally “poses a concerning health risk,” Trump presses ahead.

Number of attendees: More than 3,000. No social distancing. About half of the crowd wears masks.

Middletown, Pennsylvania

Sept. 26: Number of attendees:  Several thousand. No social distancing. Few masks.

It’s a Crime

  • Murder: The unlawful killing of another human being. Under the Model Penal Code, murder includes intentional killing, as well as conduct exhibiting extreme recklessness.
  • Manslaughter: The act of killing another human being in a way that is less culpable than murder. Manslaughter includes reckless homicide.
  • Reckless: Behavior that is so careless that it is considered an extreme departure from the care a reasonable person would exercise in similar circumstances.

Proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump killed any particular individual may be difficult. But his conduct is akin to a person who fires a gun into a crowded room. That’s a crime.

The CDC urges social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus. Throughout the world, face masks are saving lives. Trump still flouts both longstanding public health measures, even in states and localities that require them.

By January 1, total coronavirus fatalities in the US are projected to reach 371,000. Widespread use of face masks could save almost 100,000 of them. Social distancing could save even more. Trump could prevent thousands of American deaths, and he could begin by stopping his super-spreader rallies.

But he won’t.

Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.

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