By MARSHA MERCER
When President Donald Trump held a campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Wednesday night, a giant billboard at the airport helpfully pointed the way to the “TRUMP COVID SUPERSPREADER EVENT.”
Rural America 2020, an agricultural advocacy group that opposes Trump, paid for the billboard.
“We’re doing our part to warn Iowans that @realdonaldtrump is in town tomorrow. This billboard is directly outside the Des Moines Airport where he will hold his hangar rally,” the group tweeted Tuesday.
Darkly humorous and deadly serious, the billboard reminds us that Trump is hosting campaign rallies around the country that put his supporters, their friends and families at risk even as coronavirus cases are surging.
Iowa has seen such a jump in coronavirus that White House health officials warned the state Oct. 4 to limit gatherings to 25 people or fewer. Trump and his campaign ignored the advice and packed thousands shoulder to shoulder in the hangar.
Rally attendees receive temperature checks, but most do not wear masks or keep social distance. Trump still refuses to model good behavior by masking up. He revels in the large, enthusiastic crowds, urging the news media to turn their cameras on his fans.
So much about this is perplexing: The president continues to flout his own health experts’ recommendations. Fans still flock to his rallies. Republican politicians stand by and smile.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, did say he has not been to the White House since August because he disagrees with White House coronavirus protocols, but other GOP politicians have stayed silent or backed Trump’s irresponsible behavior.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, continues to warn against large gatherings, saying they are “asking for trouble.”
While declining to criticize campaign rallies specifically, Fauci said Wednesday on CBS, “large congregate settings with a lot of people” are an avoidable risk.
For months, we’ve heard that cooler weather will bring a surge of COVID-19 cases, as people head indoors where transmission is easier. We’re already seeing a surge in the upper Midwest and northern plains, where some hospitals are overwhelmed.
In the District of Columbia and 37 states, including Virginia, the number of new cases rose 5 percent or more this week over the previous week, according to Johns Hopkins University coronavirus trackers.
Fauci urged all Americans to “double down” on mask wearing, social distancing, avoiding crowds, being outdoors when possible and washing hands.
If we fail in these simple precautions, we’re likely to see more cases, hospitalizations, deaths and more suffering by “long-haulers,” people who fight the effects of COVID indefinitely.
The president insists he himself is now immune -- “I feel so powerful,” he said Monday at a rally in Florida -- after spending three nights in the hospital at Walter Reed National Military Center and receiving a drug that’s unavailable to most Americans. An antibody cocktail from Regeneron is in clinical trials.
At least 1,011 new coronavirus deaths and about 60,000 new cases were reported in the United States on Oct. 14, according to a New York Times database. New cases had dropped to between 30,000 and 35,000 a day in early September but averaged more than 53,124 cases a day over the past week, an increase of 23 percent from the average two weeks earlier, The Times said.
In 2016, Trump bragged he could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue in New York and shoot someone and not lose voters. Now, as he plays fast and loose with a deadly virus, polls show he’s losing support among seniors who are the most vulnerable to severe illness.
We’re in the campaign’s final stretch. If Trump should defy the polls and win re-election, he likely will orchestrate more mass events as COVID worsens.
“This winter – this November, December, January, February – could be the worst time in our epidemic,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said Tuesday on CNN. “Get ready to hunker down.”
Trump’s far different message: “Don’t be afraid of COVID. Don’t let it dominate your life.”
But don’t be reckless. Be smart, follow health guidelines and avoid super-spreader events of any kind.
© 2020 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.