As total coronavirus deaths in the United States approached 200,000, President Trump held his first indoor campaign rally in almost three months on Sunday, hosting an event in Henderson, Nevada, without enforcing social distancing protocols.
Adherence to social distancing guidelines was mostly a voluntary affair within the building. Campaign officials defended their actions, stating they were giving temperature checks and masks to attendees.
Yet according to most accounts of the event, the majority of attendees did not wear facial coverings or maintain six feet of distance between each other during the rally. There was one exception: Those standing directly behind Trump (and thus most likely to be seen on television) were required to wear masks.
Nevada continues to enforce rules that restrict gatherings of over 50 individuals except in special circumstances, a point that city officials made clear in statements about the rally. Henderson spokeswoman Kathleen Richards said the Trump campaign did not follow existing state guidelines for holding the rally.
“Large live events must be approved by the Nevada Department of Business and Industry, Division of Industrial Relations and at this time, the City has not been notified that this event has been approved,” Richards said. “The City may assess a fine of up to $500 per violation of the governor’s directives as well as suspend or revoke the business license.”
Gov. Steve Sisolak (D-Nevada) issued a number of critical tweets, stating that Trump “appears to have forgotten that this country is still in the middle of a global pandemic.”
Trump “blatantly disregarded the emergency directives and tough choices made to fight this pandemic and begin reopening our economy by hosting an indoor gathering that’s categorized as ‘high risk’ according to his own CDC,” Sisolak said.
Instead, he came into our State and blatantly disregarded the emergency directives and tough choices made to fight this pandemic and begin reopening our economy by hosting an indoor gathering that’s categorized as “high risk” according to his own CDC.
— Governor Sisolak (@GovSisolak) September 14, 2020
The president’s actions threatened to roll back recent efforts to contain the pandemic in the state, he added.
“This is an insult to every Nevadan who has followed the directives, made sacrifices, and put their neighbors before themselves,” the Democratic governor said. “It’s also a direct threat to all of the recent progress we’ve made, and could potentially set us back.”
Mike Gwin, a spokesman for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, echoed those criticisms.
“Every rally turned superspreader event Donald Trump decides to hold serves as another reminder to Americans that Trump still refuses to take this pandemic seriously and still doesn’t have a plan to stop it, even after nearly 200,000 deaths and untold economic damage,” Gwin said.
The indoor rally even garnered bipartisan outrage, as Ari Fleischer, who served as press secretary under former Republican President George W. Bush, also spoke out against it.
“Indoor rallies are irresponsible,” Fleischer wrote in a tweet. “Covid-19 is real and this was a bad idea.”
Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, lambasted the Trump campaign for putting people in a dangerous and potentially deadly situation.
“What else could you call an act that, because of its negligence, results in the death of others? If you have a mass gathering now in the United States in a place like Nevada or just about any other place with hundreds of thousands of people, people will get infected and some of those people will die,” Reiner said during an interview on CNN.
Such criticisms are warranted, as Trump’s last indoor campaign rally, which took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 20, is seen as a potential cause for a subsequent spike in coronavirus cases in the city. Although city health officials never explicitly mentioned the president’s rally as a catalyst for an increase in cases, large gatherings around the time that Trump was in town were cited as “more than likely” responsible for the higher rates of infection.