President Donald Trump defies Covid guidelines to host indoor rally

14 September 2020, 06:26

President Donald Trump reacts to the crowd as he speaks at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing in Henderson, Nevada
President Donald Trump reacts to the crowd as he speaks at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing in Henderson, Nevada. Picture: PA

By Megan White

President Donald Trump has hosted his first indoor rally in three months in front of a packed, mask-less crowd in Nevada, defying state regulations and his own administration's pandemic health guidelines.

There was no early mention from the president that the pandemic had killed nearly 200,000 Americans and was still claiming 1,000 lives a day.

Few in the crowd in Henderson, near Las Vegas, wore masks, with one clear exception: those in the stands directly behind Mr Trump, whose images would end up on TV.

Read more: Donald Trump says he downplayed threat of covid-19 to avoid 'panic'

Not since his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma in June - which featured rows of empty seats and was blamed for a local spike in Covid-19 cases - has he gathered supporters indoors.

One prominent Trump supporter at that rally, businessman and former presidential candidate Herman Cain, died of Covid-19 weeks later, though it was not clear if he contracted the virus there.

Recognising that many supporters were uncomfortable gathering in a large group indoors, where the virus spreads more easily, the Trump campaign shifted to holding smaller, outdoor rallies, usually at aircraft hangers.

But those rallies have grown in size in recent weeks, with little social distancing and few masks.

On Sunday, they returned indoors, in part as a nod to the Las Vegas-area heat.

Temperature checks were given to all upon entrance at the industrial site and while masks were encouraged, few wore them.

Nevada's Democratic governor Steve Sisolak has limited in-person gatherings indoors and outdoors to 50 people since May, a recommendation based on White House reopening guidelines.

In a statement released just before the rally began, Mr Sisolak said Mr Trump was "taking reckless and selfish actions that are putting countless lives in danger here in Nevada".

"To put it bluntly: he didn't have the guts to make tough choices," Mr Sisolak said of Mr Trump's handling of the virus.

"He left that to governors and the states. Now he's decided he doesn't have to respect our State's laws. As usual, he doesn't believe the rules apply to him."

The city of Henderson informed Xtreme Manufacturing on Sunday that the event as planned was in direct violation of the governor's Covid-19 emergency directives and that penalties would follow.

The Trump campaign pushed back against the restrictions.

"If you can join tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets, gamble in a casino, or burn down small businesses in riots, you can gather peacefully under the 1st Amendment to hear from the President of the United States," campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said.

To this point, the campaign has not been played out as a choice election between Mr Trump and his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, but rather a referendum on the president's handling of the coronavirus.

By wide margins, Americans have disapproved of Mr Trump's leadership, as the United States has suffered more deaths than any other nation.

The Nevada rally came the night before Mr Trump was due to travel to California to receive a briefing on the devastating wildfires racing through the region.

He has largely been silent on the blazes that have claimed dozens of lives in Oregon and California.

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