Trump camp hit with COVID-19 crisis ahead of ‘comeback rally’
Six staffers with US President Donald Trump's election campaign have tested positive for coronavirus, just hours before he was to take the stage at his comeback rally.
The Trump 2020 campaign said the staffers were immediately quarantined and had no direct contact with elected officials or attendees.
The dual crises gripping America are being brought head to head today with Mr Trump's restarting his election campaign in a city confronting a coronavirus spike and bracing for race riots.
Tens of thousands of Trump supporters have headed to Tulsa, Oklahoma for Mr Trump's first rally since coronavirus effectively halted the 2020 race in March.
Some had been waiting outside the event location since last Monday and the streets surrounding the arena took on a carnival-like atmosphere ahead of the rally.
They included June Allen, 72, from Wichita in neighbouring Kansas, who was in the minority of rally attendees wearing masks.
Seated in a lawn chair with friends, the retired nurse said she was concerned about the rising COVID-19 cases in 27 states as the US reopens.
"I am taking precautions, so I am safe to here," she said.
Nearby, Garrett Bryant, 42, said he was excited the Trump campaign was being held in his home city.
"This is a great opportunity," said Mr Brooks, who was not wearing a mask.
"I wouldn't have missed coming here to support my president.
"I'm not worried about the virus, I think a lot of it has been blown up by the media."
The Trump campaign said "all rally attendees are given temperature checks before going through security, at which point they are given wristbands, face masks and hand sanitiser."
"Per safety protocols, campaign staff are tested for COVID-19 before events. Six members of the advance team tested positive out of hundreds of tests performed, and quarantine procedures were immediately implemented," said spokesman Tim Murtaugh.
"No COVID-positive staffers or anyone in immediate contact will be at today's rally or near attendees and elected officials."
The event coincides with Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, which celebrates the end of slavery in the US, and has become a lightning rod for the civil unrest which has gripped the country in recent weeks.
Commemorations are particularly poignant for Tulsa, which is marking the 99th anniversary of one of the worst race massacres in history, when about 300 black people were killed by white Oklahomans at what was known as Black Wall St.
Mr Trump was forced to move the rally back a day, after his initially scheduling it for June 19 drew broad criticism.
The rally, scheduled to take place in the 19,000-capacity BOK arena, is going ahead despite warnings from local authorities that the state's virus cases were soaring and holding an indoor event was hazardous.
All of which has led to wide concern the competing events could lead to clashes between Trump supporters, protesters and organised groups such as those who have infiltrated recent protests across the country.
"I fear for my community," said Tulsa City Councillor Vanessa Hall-Harper this week.
Oklahoma's Supreme Court yesterday struck down a lawsuit lodged to keep the Trump rally away, with residents and businesses saying it posed "a substantial, imminent and deadly risk to the community."
The court also ruled that rally attendees would not have to wear masks, despite CDC recommendations that they be worn where social distancing is not possible.
"It is not the duty of this Court to fashion rules or regulations where none exist," the court wrote in a unanimous decision.
And Tulsa's Republican mayor, who had earlier embraced the business and publicity the Trump rally would bring, walked back some of his enthusiasm.
Dozens of Trump supporters camped outside the arena were evicted Thursday night by a new curfew, however this was lifted after Mr Trump called Mayor George Bynum yesterday.
Mr Bynum also declared a civil emergency, citing the unrest caused by the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd.
Outrage over Mr Floyd's killing last month by a white police officer led to weeks of protests and sparked a national reckoning over the history of slavery and racism in the US.
"I have received information from the Tulsa Police Department and other law enforcement agencies that shows that individuals from organised groups who have been involved in destructive and violent behaviour in other States are planning to travel to the City of Tulsa for purposes of causing unrest in and around the rally," Mr Bynum said.
Mr Trump has been keen to return to the raucous rallies that helped propel him to victory in 2016, and his campaign said more than a million tickets had been requested for the Tulsa event.
It comes at a perilous point of Mr Trump's presidency, with consistent polls showing a growing lead for the presumptive Democratic candidate Joe Biden, as Americans contend with historic job losses due to coronavirus and the continuing unrest.
A Fox News poll yesterday showed the president trailed nationally by 12 points, and he was also down among some key demographics he took in 2016.
These include suburban and independent voters, with whom he was behind by 22 points.
Mr Trump's share of white, non-college educated women had slipped from a lead of 27 points to 11.
He is also trailing in almost all polls in several key swing states, although by a smaller margin.
Mr Trump slammed the poll, as he has done with several others showing a double digit national lead for Mr Biden, and said he was commencing his bid for re-election in Tulsa.
"My campaign hasn't started yet," he said Friday, local time.
"It starts on Saturday night in Oklahoma."
He also warned authorities would crack down on "any protesters, anarchists, agitators or lowlifes" in the city.
"You will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis," he said, referring to riots in which police were overwhelmed by arsonists, rioters and looters.
"It will be a much different scene."
Originally published as Trump camp hit with COVID-19 crisis ahead of 'comeback rally'