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Trump set to defy task force recommendations with Wisconsin rallies

Posted October 1, 2020 2:34 p.m. EDT
Updated October 2, 2020 3:01 a.m. EDT

Trump set to defy task force recommendations with Wisconsin rallies

— President Donald Trump is expected to again defy recommendations from his own administration's coronavirus task force Saturday when he travels to Wisconsin for a pair of campaign rallies -- though at least one of his events has been moved after outcry from local officials.

Trump had been planning to convene rallies at airplane hangars in La Crosse and Green Bay. But after calls to cancel from La Crosse's mayor, that event was moved to Janesville, which, the campaign claimed, had to do with a lease issue. Janesville is in a different region of the state and in a different media market from La Crosse.

A Trump campaign official told CNN the change was not Covid-19 related.

"We had a change of venue. There was an issue with the lease at the first location. Not Covid-related," the campaign official said.

A similar issue came up in Nevada recently. The Trump campaign moved a rally in the Las Vegas area after public outcry from local officials. The campaign ultimately chose to move a Henderson, Nevada, event to an indoor manufacturing facility.

The planned gatherings come as his own coronavirus task force is warning of "rapid worsening" and an "intense period of viral surge" in Wisconsin and calling on the state to increase social distancing. But the President continues to show little interest in changing his campaign style to meet the needs of the moment. The Saturday rallies serve as another example of the President's blatant disregard for science and best public health practices, plowing ahead with packed gatherings in hot spots even as the coronavirus pandemic rages across the country.

Wisconsin "has continued to see a rapid worsening of the epidemic in the last week," a September 27 weekly task force report obtained by CNN said. The state has the third highest case rate in the country and has a test positivity rate between 8% and 10%, the seventh highest in the country.

The task force recommended increased social distancing "to the maximal degree possible."

"During the intense period of viral surge, large numbers of acutely infected individuals caused exponential growth in infections. Although young adults are the most affected group currently, spread to other age groups is inevitable. To the maximal degree possible, increase social distancing mitigation measures until cases decline, including through supporting local authorities to pass and enforce mitigation measures," the report said.

Green Bay falls into the task force-defined "red zone" for metro areas ("reported both new cases at or above 101 per 100,000 population, and a lab test positivity result at or above 10.1%"). Janesville is in the task force-defined "orange zone" ("reported both new cases between 51--100 per 100,000 population, and a lab test positivity result between 8.0--10.0%, or one of those two conditions and one condition qualifying as being in the "Red Zone.")

Local officials in both La Crosse and Green Bay had spoken out against the rallies prior to the La Crosse rally's change to Janesville.

"Any massive gathering of people that occurs without social distancing, without masking has the possibility of being a super-spreader event," Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich told the Green Bay Press Gazette. "I don't think the President would want to be involved in something like that."

And La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat, a Democrat, said earlier Thursday he did not want Trump to visit and urged him to postpone at least 14 days.

"We're really hoping that we can get this event either canceled or postponed to another time based on what we are experiencing here in La Crosse," Kabat told CNN's New Day, saying his team is working to get the campaign to move the event to another location in a nearby location.

"Under normal circumstances, a presidential visit for a community like La Crosse would be an awesome thing and be welcome, but the situation that we're in of course with the coronavirus really causes us to try to protect the community's health and safety."

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, also a Democrat, has called on the Trump campaign to either cancel the event or mandate masks.

Trump has repeatedly mocked former vice president Joe Biden for his mask usage and derided his opponent's campaign's socially distanced events with marked circles.

"We have tens of thousands of people. If Sleepy Joe came here, if he had -- I really mean this, you know the little circles he fills and he can't get him full, you have like five of them. Those circles, those big beautiful -- I love it, does a nice job, they're very round, but he's got like five of them and then he stands very far back and walks in," Trump told a crowd of supporters in Middletown, Pennsylvania, last week.

And at Tuesday's presidential debate, Trump defended his packed rallies.

"People want to hear what I have to say" and claimed the rallies have not led to additional spread," he said.

Since the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a global pandemic in mid-March, Trump has held 21 campaign rallies, mostly at partially outdoor airplane hangar venues. Supporters largely do not wear masks and little to no social distancing is observed.

"So far, we have had no problem whatsoever. It's outside that's a big difference, according to the experts, and we do them outside. We have tremendous crowds," Trump said at the debate, neglecting to mention a packed rally at a manufacturing plant near Las Vegas two weeks ago.

Biden called the President "totally irresponsible" and suggesting Trump doesn't care about spread among his supporters: "He never worried about you. He's not worried about the people out there breathing."

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said supporters could choose whether to attend the Wisconsin events, later railing against what she described as "two standards" amid social justice protests, one for Trump supporters and one for everyone else.

"The President believes that people have a First Amendment right to political speech. He is having a rally. People can choose whether or not to come," McEnany said, adding that there would be "measures to protect rallygoers."

But Dr. Ann Helms, a Milwaukee neurologist and member of the Committee to Protect Medicare, an organization supporting Biden, said that in Wisconsin, there "has not been a big bump in cases attributed to the social justice protests, largely because these are almost uniformly masked and outdoors with attempts to social distance," unlike Trump's rallies.

Dr. Robert Freedland, a La Crosse-based ophthalmologist and also a member of the Committee to Protect Medicare, said the continued rallies show Trump is failing to lead the nation and keep Americans safe.

"The President is held to a higher standard. He's supposed to be a role model for all of us. He's supposed to listen to his experts, he's supposed to enact public policy that improves the health of all of us, that keeps us safe and not endanger us, but it's clear that the President of the United States is willing to hold political rallies because he thinks it'll be good for his politics, even if it's bad for the people of Wisconsin. And I'm just tired of that," he said.

Trump campaign spokeswoman Courtney Parella told CNN Thursday that "everyone attending will receive a temperature check, be provided a mask they are encouraged to wear and have access to plenty of hand sanitizer."

The campaign did not substantively address CNN's inquiries regarding the recommendations from the task force and whether there would be any efforts to heed those guidelines.

CNN's DJ Judd and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.

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