White House coronavirus experts have said central Iowa social gatherings should be limited to 25 people, but President Trump won’t be heeding that advice at his rally Wednesday at the Des Moines International Airport.
The White House task force’s latest report, dated Oct. 4, classifies the Des Moines area and Polk County as being in a “yellow zone” for transmission of the virus. The federal experts previously advised state officials that gatherings in “yellow zones” should be limited to 25 or fewer people.
The president has resumed campaign rallies this week, after revealing Oct. 2 that he had come down with COVID-19. Trump was hospitalized for three days and received experimental treatments that he says helped him make a quick recovery. His doctor said this week that he is no longer a threat to transmit the virus to others.
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Lina Tucker Reinders, executive director of the Iowa Public Health Association, said she’s concerned about the rally being held while the state continues to struggle with the virus.
She said Trump’s staff members could be infectious if they were in contact with him recently. Members of the public also could unwittingly be carrying the virus, which can spread from people who aren’t showing any symptoms.
“If anyone in attendance is infectious, we are potentially looking at another super-spreader event,” Tucker Reinders wrote in an email to the Des Moines Register on Tuesday. “We again today set a record high for hospitalizations. We need to be focusing on bringing those numbers down and controlling the spread, not enabling large events, political or otherwise.”
The White House coronavirus task force has repeatedly urged Iowa leaders to take stronger steps to rein in the pandemic. The task force’s latest available report carried a dire warning for Iowa: “Community transmission has remained high across the state for the past month, with many preventable deaths.”
The Oct. 4 report listed the Des Moines area as being in “yellow zone” for spread of the virus.
That was an improvement over some previous weeks, when the area was listed as being in red or orange zones, indicating more danger. Even so, the federal experts continue to urge caution throughout Iowa, which has been seeing more than twice as many new coronavirus cases as the national average.
In earlier reports, the task force has told Iowa officials that social gatherings in red zones should be limited to 10 or fewer people, and that those in yellow zones should be limited to 25 or fewer.
The task force has been sending weekly reports to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. The governor, a Republican and a Trump ally, has rebuffed some of the White House experts’ advice, including that she require Iowans to wear masks in public and that she keep bars shuttered in large swaths of the state.
In a message on Twitter, Reynolds urged Iowans to attend the president’s rally.
“It will be this Wednesday at 6:00 PM in Des Moines! Protect Iowa’s future, and show your support for President Trump!” she wrote.
Make sure to request your free tickets for the upcoming rally w/President @realDonaldTrump. It will be this Wednesday at 6:00 PM in Des Moines! Protect Iowa’s future, and show your support for President Trump! #Trump2020 https://t.co/x7fef4MLMa
— Kim Reynolds (@KimReynoldsIA) October 12, 2020
A Des Moines airport spokeswoman said local officials were told to expect up to 10,000 people at the rally. Trump campaign officials have said rally-goers will have their temperatures checked, will be given masks and will be encouraged to wear them.
Reynolds’ spokesman, Pat Garrett, explained the governor’s stance in an email to reporters: “Governor Reynolds looks forward to attending Wednesday’s rally that is taking place outside. She will continue to take precautions and is encouraging those attending to adhere to the public health steps the campaign is taking such as temperature checks, and the use of hand sanitizer and masks.”
To obtain tickets, rally-goers must agree to a liability waiver acknowledging the risk of catching the virus. Campaign officials have said the event will be held in an airplane hangar with open doors.
Dr. Christine Petersen, an epidemiology professor at the University of Iowa, said she wouldn’t consider such an event to be outdoors.
“A hangar does not have the same air circulation as the true outdoors do,” she said in an interview Tuesday.
Petersen, who is director of the university’s Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, said attendees standing close to each other could become infected, even if they were on the airport tarmac.
“Being outdoors is not a guarantee,” she said. “It’s better, but it’s not magic.”
Spokespeople for the Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday about the conflict between the rally plans and the coronavirus task force’s advice.
Tony Leys covers health care for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-284-8449.
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This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: White House experts advise against Des Moines gatherings of more than 25. Trump plans a rally in Des Moines for 10,000.