On Thursday, two people who attended President Trump’s October 21 rally in Gastonia, North Carolina — one of a series of recent campaign events he has held in the state — tested positive for the coronavirus. In a statement, the Gaston County Health and Human Services Department said the two positive COVID-19 cases are “not thought to be an indication of spread from the rally at this time, but rather two independent cases among individuals who were in attendance” at the event, during which Trump claimed the pandemic was “rounding the corner” and decried COVID-19 as “fake news” that cable television is fixated on “because they want to scare the hell out of everyone.”
Gaston County health officials said they made the announcement “because of the large number of potential contacts from the rally, and the inability to alert them directly,” encouraging the community to “assess their own risk and take appropriate actions.” One of the people who tested positive was a reporter, covering the rally for a local TV station, who wrote on Twitter that he is not sure when or where he contracted the virus and “will not speculate” on the matter. He noted that he wore a mask during the entire event, “but due to Secret Service protocols, there were several times when social distancing wasn’t possible.”
While it’s unclear how many people may have been exposed, Gaston would not be the first Trump rally site to see a subsequent spike in new COVID-19 infections. A CNN analysis of 17 Trump campaign rallies held between August 17 and September 26 found that 14 of the host counties — a whopping 82 percent — had increased infection rates one month later, findings based on the “rate of new daily cases per 100,000 residents at four weeks before the rally, on the rally date, and four weeks after the rally at the county level and at the state level.”
CNN notes that six of the 14 host counties already had increasing rates of infection in the month prior to the rally, while the other eight had declining rates of infection in the month prior to the rally. The latter is true for Nevada’s Douglas County, where Trump held a campaign event in Minden on September 12. “In the month before the rally, cases had begun to fall. But four weeks after the event, the rate of new cases in the county skyrocketed by 225%, outpacing the 74% increase the rest of the state experienced in the same time period,” per CNN.
But even places where the rate of new COVID-19 cases had already been increasing in the month prior to the event saw increasing rates of infection after hosting a Trump rally, as was the case for Minnesota’s Beltrami County, where Trump held an event in Bemidji on September 18. One month later, new daily cases surged by more than 385 percent, an increase surpassing the rate of infection that the state was experiencing. And on Monday, the Minnesota Department of Health reported three COVID-19 outbreaks — at least 23 cases — related to Trump campaign events that occurred in September. At least 16 cases, including two hospitalizations, were identified among attendees at Trump’s Bemidji event, where some 2,000 people were estimated in attendance. Three people who attended Vice-President Mike Pence’s speech on September 24 — an indoor “Cops for Trump” listening event he held with Ivanka Trump in Minneapolis — have tested positive, as have four attendees of Trump’s September 30 rally in Duluth.
The outbreaks come amid poll findings showing most Americans disagree with Trump’s decision to hold massive campaign events during a pandemic. Nearly six in ten Americans, according to a new USA Today–Suffolk University poll, disapprove of the president’s rallies — events that a Trump campaign spokesperson attempted to justify by pointing to the “right to gather under the First Amendment.” The same poll found nearly 64 percent approve of Joe Biden’s approach to campaigning during a public-health crisis, which has included holding events remotely or with strictly enforced safety precautions. Unsurprisingly, almost all Democrats, 95 percent, oppose Trump’s MAGA events, compared to the 73 percent of Republicans in favor of the large rallies.
Whether the strategy is resonating with voters doesn’t seem to be of interest to Trump, who has hosted more than a dozen rallies since testing positive for COVID-19, and, in his final days on the campaign trail, is apparently going with a closing message of “the virus is not a big deal.” His son, too, has embraced the strategy, falsely claiming that coronavirus deaths are “down to almost nothing” and denying the severity of the pandemic in a Fox News appearance on Thursday.