By Arturo Castañares
President Trump held his first campaign rally in over 100 days on Saturday and told the crowd that he asked his staff to “slow the testing down” as the tests revealed more confirmed cases of the deadly virus.
“You know testing is a double-edged sword,” Trump said during the rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, claiming the US has conducted more than 25 million tests so far. “Here’s the bad part, when you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people. You’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, slow the testing down please,” Trump said.
A White House official later suggested to reporters that the President’s comment was a joke.
The rally was held at the BOK Center, a 19,000 seat indoor arena that was only partially full during the event. A stage set up outside the arena for a planned speech to an expected overflow crowd by Trump and Vice President Mike Pence was dismantled before the event started because there were only a handful of people outside the arena.
Attendees of the event were screened before entering using temperature checks and they were asked to wear masks, although nearly everyone removed their face coverings after entering the arena. Earlier in the day, the Trump campaign revealed that six staffers had tested positive for the virus and had been removed from the event.
Trump also continued his attacks on the media’s portrayal of the coronavirus pandemic and again used a racially-charged term to refer to the COVID-19 virus.
“[COVID-19] has more names than any disease in history. I can name—Kung Flu—I can name 19 different versions of names,” Trump said. “Many call it a virus. Which it is. Many call it a flu, what difference? I think we have 19 or 20 versions of the name,” Trump added.
Trump has previously called the COVID-19 virus the “Chinese Virus”, a name that has not been used officially by either the CDC or the WHO.
The rally was held amid growing concerns that spikes in confirmed COVID-19 cases, as well as hospitalizations, show signs of the virus’s resurgence after nearly all states have reopened public spaces and relaxed stay-at-home orders.
Oklahoma has seen a surge of coronavirus cases in the past week. On Thursday, 450 new cases were reported, surpassing a record 259 cases reported the day before. The troubling problem is that new cases have been primarily among younger people, with 54% of the new cases in the past two weeks being people 35 years old and younger, according to the state’s Health Department.
The age group most vulnerable to serious illness and death, those 65 and older, had the smallest percentage increase in cases from June 3 to 17, according to the Health Department data.
Alarmingly, hospitalizations for COVID-19 rose to 211, surpassing 200 for the first time since May 20 at the height of the pandemic.
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt said the rise in cases among younger patients is alarming.
“In the last two weeks, more than half of the cases have been people under 35 … because people are getting back out,” the Governor said.
Public health officials in Tulsa cautioned people attending the rally about the risk of infection or spreading the disease, and the management company for the BOK Center released a statement saying that it would “encourage all attendees to remain masked throughout the duration of the event until they exit the building.”
The Trump campaign also included a disclaimer on its website where people registered for rally tickets declaring that attendees could not hold Trump, the campaign, or the organizers liable if they became infected with the virus.
“By clicking register below, you are acknowledging that an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present. By attending the Rally, you and any guests voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19 and agree not to hold Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.; BOK Center; ASM Global; or any of their affiliates, directors, officers, employees, agents, contractors, or volunteers liable for any illness or injury,”
During the rally, President Trump blamed the “fake news” media and protesters for the low attendance, claiming news reports scared the public about attending and that protesters blocked access to the arena. Reporters at the event did not see any protesters at the site because police had set up a parameter two blocks away to keep protesters separated from event attendees.
In the end, the crowd size was estimated to be about half of the 19,000 person capacity of the building.