President Donald Trump walks off after speaking at a campaign rally in Florida on Oct. 12, 2020.

Coronavirus and Inequality

Published — October 15, 2020

Trump plans rally in Wisconsin despite White House warning of ‘preventable deaths’

President Donald Trump walks off after speaking at a campaign rally at Orlando Sanford International Airport, Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, in Sanford, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

His own White House Coronavirus Task Force, in a report it doesn’t make public, says that Wisconsin residents need to avoid crowds. 

Introduction

President Donald Trump plans to hold a rally in Wisconsin Saturday despite his own White House Coronavirus Task Force telling the state this week that residents need to avoid “crowds in public and social gatherings in private” unless they want to cause “preventable deaths.”

The warning for Wisconsin came in a weekly report that the White House issues to governors but does not make public. 

In the latest report, dated Oct. 11, Wisconsin was in the “red zone,” fourth in the nation for new COVID-19 cases per population and seventh for test positivity. Hospitalizations in the state tripled over the last three weeks, the White House reported, and deaths climbed to 87 in the prior week.

The task force report encouraged Wisconsin residents to be vigilant about “mask wearing, physical distancing, hand hygiene, avoiding crowds in public and social gatherings in private.” 

“Wisconsin’s ability to limit further and avoid increases in hospitalizations and deaths will depend on increased observation of social distancing mitigation measures by the community until cases decline,” the task force wrote. “Lack of compliance with these measures will lead to preventable deaths.”

The Trump rally is set to take place at a Janesville, Wisconsin, airport on Saturday. Attendees will be told to wear masks and will have their temperatures checked, the campaign has said. But many Trump-rally goers in Florida on Monday did not wear masks, despite the campaign instructing them to do so.

As at other Trump rallies, those who show up to the Wisconsin event must agree to absolve the Trump campaign of liability if they become sick. 

“That indicates they know the reality because if they weren’t worried about it then they wouldn’t bother,” said William Hanage, a Harvard epidemiologist, who added that the virus could spread due to crowding at the rally, even if held outdoors, or at indoor celebrations following the event. “Given the rates of disease currently in Wisconsin, we can say pretty categorically this is going to produce opportunity for transmission.”

When asked for comment, the White House directed questions to the Trump campaign, which did not respond. Trump’s rallies previously have been at odds with the task force’s advice, though the task force’s fresh warning about “preventable deaths” underscores the risks the Trump campaign is taking with this weekend’s rally. The task force is led by Vice President Mike Pence and Dr. Deborah Birx.

Wisconsin recently issued an emergency order limiting gatherings in indoor venues such as bars, but a judge temporarily blocked the move. Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, called the ruling “dangerous.” The order would not have applied to an event like a Trump rally, which lately have been held outdoors on tarmacs. 

The Center for Public Integrity first revealed the task force reports in July and is now collecting them from individual states, since the White House does not make them public.

Trump is scheduled to travel from a Michigan event to the Wisconsin rally this weekend — which, according to his task force, is the opposite path the coronavirus recently took. “The spread of the Upper Peninsula outbreaks after introduction of disease from Wisconsin is concerning given the limited healthcare resources in the region and evidence for continuing spread into the state,” read Michigan’s Oct. 11 report.

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