(This June 16th story corrects spelling of immunocompromised in fourth paragraph)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Officials are considering other venues in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for President Donald Trump’s first campaign rally since the coronavirus shutdown, Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday, as virus cases climb in Oklahoma and other states.
A Trump campaign official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said later the rally would be held at the BOK Center arena in downtown Tulsa as planned, “but the campaign is also considering other areas adjacent to the arena to allow the president to address even more people.”
Questions about logistics for the rally and its public health implications mounted as an Oklahoma judge denied a petition for a court order to block the event until organizers adopt social-distancing measures to curb coronavirus infections.
The lawsuit, filed by two Tulsa businesses and two immunocompromised city residents, said the prospect of assembling tens of thousands of shouting, chanting people inside an enclosed arena amounted to a “super-spreader” coronavirus event in the making.
“As currently planned, the event will endanger not only the health of guests in attendance … but the entire Tulsa community and any community to which the guests may afterward travel,” the lawsuit said.
Pence acknowledged the health risks of bringing so many people together – the campaign said it had received more than 1 million ticket requests – during an interview with Fox News.
“It’s all a work in progress. We’ve had such an overwhelming response that we’re also looking at another venue. We’re also looking at outside activities, and I know the campaign team will keep the public informed as that goes forward,” Pence said.
“But it’s one of the reasons that we’re going to do the temperature screening and we’re going to provide hand sanitizers and provide masks for people that are attending.”
Pence said officials were discussing options with Oklahoma’s governor.
The campaign rally will be Trump’s first since early March, when the coronavirus pandemic led to quarantines and the shuttering of the U.S. economy. Trump is seeking re-election in November against presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
“One of the reasons we chose Oklahoma is because Oklahoma has done such a remarkable job in reopening their state,” Pence said.
However, coronavirus infections are on the rise in the state, particularly around Tulsa. The city’s chief health officer has expressed concern about holding such a large indoor and said he wished the rally could be postponed.
An editorial in Tulsa’s largest newspaper said the rally would risk lives and bring no benefit to the city. It called Trump “a divisive figure” who is likely to attract protests and said there was no reason to think a rally would affect the November election in the state, which is heavily Republican.
“This is the wrong time and Tulsa is the wrong place for a Trump rally,” the Tulsa World said.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Gerry Doyle)