RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia health official is warning of a “severe public health threat” if a planned campaign rally for President Donald Trump goes forward Friday evening.
Dr. Natasha Dwamena, a Department of Public Health district director, said in a letter Thursday that the 4,000 people expected to attend Trump's rally at the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport would be breaking Gov. Ralph Northam's executive order generally banning gatherings of more than 250 people. She said the rally should be canceled, rescheduled or scaled down to comply with the governor's order.
“The rally poses a concerning public health risk,” Dwamena said in the letter, which was addressed to the private company that leases the hangar where the rally is set to take place.
Northam's top health and transportation aides also sent letters Thursday to airport officials around the state reminding them that they have “the authority to enforce” the state's laws.
But it's unlikely to make a difference, as the Trump campaign has routinely flouted public health guidelines intended to halt the spread of COVID-19. Trump has tried to use this summer’s mass protests over racial injustice and police misconduct as cover for his rallies, making the case that, if demonstrators can gather en masse, so can his supporters.
John Fredericks, a conservative radio host and chairman of the Virginia delegation for the Trump campaign, said Democrats are trying to block the rally for political reasons.
“Panic has set in amongst Virginia Democrats," Fredericks said. Northam is a Democrat.
Hillary Clinton easily won Virginia in 2016, and the state has not been a focal point of either campaign this year. But Fredericks said the internal polling data he sees each morning shows the race tightening to the point where he said it's now winnable for Trump.
Trump’s campaign has insisted it takes appropriate health precautions, including handing out masks and hand sanitizer and checking the temperatures of rallygoers. But many of his campaign rallies have seen thousands of maskless supporters standing shoulder to shoulder, something Dwamena noted in her letter.