Just hours before the President is expected to arrive in the state, Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement that “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.”
“No COVID-positive staffers or anyone in immediate contact will be at today’s rally or near attendees and elected officials,” he said.
NBC News first reported the positive tests.
The Trump campaign has dismissed concerns about the ongoing pandemic, moving forward with the scheduled rally despite a rising infection rate in Oklahoma. As of Saturday afternoon, Tulsa County reported the most cases – 2,206 total – of any county in the state, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. The state recently reported its largest single day increase in coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic.
Trump spent much of Saturday upset because he believes the coverage of the campaign staffers who have tested for coronavirus and the status of US Attorney Geoffrey Berman are overshadowing what he’d hoped would be his triumphant return to the campaign trail in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Saturday night, one person familiar with the matter told CNN.
In comments to reporters Saturday, Trump denied involvement in firing Berman, the powerful prosecutor atop the Manhattan US Attorney’s office, shortly after his attorney general sent Berman a letter saying the President had done so.
Trump learned of the six staffers testing positive earlier in the day – before the President departed the White House for the rally in Tulsa.
He was frustrated about the coverage of Berman’s ouster and the six staffers because he hoped to see the cable news covering the crowd outside the rally arena, the person said.
Trump was also peeved at having to do the rally on a Saturday night instead of Friday because he believes fewer people will tune in, another person familiar said. The rally was originally scheduled for Friday evening, but Trump announced last week he was pushing it back by a day to avoid coinciding with Juneteenth. The original date had sparked an uproar because of Tulsa’s history as the site of one of the worst incidents of racial violence in the nation’s history.
The New York Times first reported Trump’s frustration.
On Thursday, a spokesperson for the BOK Center, where Saturday’s rally is set to take place, said they’d asked Trump’s campaign for a written plan accounting safety measures for the event.
“Given the Tulsa Health Department’s recent reports of increases in coronavirus cases and the State of Oklahoma’s encouragement for event organizers to follow CDC guidelines, we have requested that the Trump campaign, as the event organizer, provide BOK Center with a written plan detailing the steps the event will institute for health and safety, including those related to social distancing. Once received, we will share the plan with local health officials,” Meghan Blood said in a statement.
Earlier this week, Trump campaign principle deputy communications director Erin Perrine told CNN the campaign was taking the concerns “seriously.”
“The campaign takes the health and safety of rally-goers seriously and is taking precautions to make the rally safe. Every single rally goer will have their temperature checked, be provided a face mask and hand sanitizer,” Perrine said. “We are also taking precautions to keep rally-goers safe in the Oklahoma heat — including providing water bottles to keep people hydrated.”
Attendees will not be required to wear a mask, however.
Those attending the rally must agree to not to sue the campaign if they contract coronavirus.
Rallygoers who RSVP’d to gain admission to the event had to agree to a disclaimer that states they acknowledge the “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,” the disclaimer reads.
Public health officials both on the ground in Tulsa and within the President’s administration have warned about the potential risks.
The Tulsa city-county Health Department Director David Bart said he wished the event would be postponed, and the BOK Center where the rally is taking place has canceled or postponed all other events at the venue through the end of July.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a key member of the President’s coronavirus task force, has warned that large-scale indoor events are very risky at this stage of the pandemic.
Despite the warnings, Trump doubled down on rallygoers choosing whether to wear masks and heed public health officials’ advice, saying in an interview with Axios published late Friday: “I recommend people do what they want.”
This story has been updated with additional background information and context.