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Health experts warn of coronavirus risks at Trump’s upcoming rally

WASHINGTON — With President Trump’s rally in Tulsa less than a week away, health specialists warned that the indoor venue and potentially large crowd could help spread the coronavirus, putting attendees and others at risk.

‘‘I’m concerned about our ability to protect anyone who attends a large, indoor event,’’ Bruce Dart, director of the Tulsa city and county health department, told the Tulsa World. ‘‘And I’m also concerned about our ability to ensure the president stays safe as well.’’

The venue for Saturday’s rally, the BOK Center, has a capacity to seat more than 19,000, but Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale tweeted Sunday that 800,000 have signed up.


The scheduled rally comes as new infections are trending upward in at least 21 states across the South and the West, prompting some governors to rethink reopening plans and renewing concerns that the country could be a long way from containing the pandemic. Alabama, Oregon, and South Carolina are among the states with the biggest increases. Alabama saw a 92 percent increase in its seven-day average, while Oregon’s seven-day average was up 83.8 percent and South Carolina’s was up 60.3 percent.

Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious-disease specialist, warned that waves of infection could come ‘‘back and forth’’ for months.

Fauci said in an interview published Sunday that the coronavirus will linger in the country for months and that it will be about a year before things return to normal.

Fauci also told the British Telegraph newspaper it probably will be months before travelers from Britain and the European Union are allowed in the country and the real end of the crisis will only come with the development of a vaccine.

‘‘I would hope to get to some degree of real normality within a year or so. But I don’t think it’s this winter or fall, we’ll be seeing it for a bit more,’’ he said, expecting the virus to go back and forth in the United States through a few cycles.


Fauci also noted that while the virus has been suppressed in major cities including New York, Chicago, and New Orleans, cases are spreading elsewhere. ‘‘We’re seeing several states, as they try to reopen and get back to normal, starting to see early indications (that) infections are higher than previously.’’

This spread will probably mean the bans on visitors from Britain, the European Union, China, and Brazil will remain in place for the time being. ‘‘I don’t think there’s going to be an immediate pull back for those kinds of restrictions. My feeling, looking at what’s going on with the infection rate, I think it’s more likely measured in months rather than weeks,’’ he said.

Fauci was, however, optimistic about the development of the vaccine, with several good candidates under development that could be ready by the end of the year.

‘‘We have potential vaccines making significant progress. We have maybe four or five,’’ he said. ‘‘You can never guarantee success with a vaccine; that’s foolish to do so, there’s so many possibilities of things going wrong. [But] everything we have seen from early results, it’s conceivable we get two or three vaccines that are successful.’’

The indoor venues and large crowds anticipated for Trump’s rally Saturday and the Republican National Convention in August could put attendees and others at risk, infectious-disease specialist Michael T. Osterholm told Fox News.


Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said in an interview with Chris Wallace on ‘‘Fox News Sunday’’ that chanting and shouting can help aerosolize the virus, exposing the thousands expected to attend both events.

‘‘Would I want my loved ones in a setting like that? Absolutely not,’’ Osterholm said. ‘‘And it wouldn’t matter about politics, I wouldn’t want them there.’’

When registering for tickets, attendees were required to acknowledge a disclaimer that they would not hold the Trump campaign or the venue liable if they got sick.

Osterholm said he also anticipated that the nationwide protests in the past few weeks over police brutality could increase the risk of transmission of the coronavirus, especially with police using tear gas and detained protesters being held in cramped jails. Several National Guard members in Washington and Nebraska have tested positive, but Osterholm warned that what happens in the next two weeks will be ‘‘telling,’’ especially as many states also are reopening.

Osterholm added that it is nearly impossible to predict the impact of these large gatherings and reopenings.

‘‘We’re not driving this tiger, we’re riding it,’’ he said.

Osterholm said the virus won’t slow its spread until it has infected 60 percent to 70 percent of the country. He estimated that the coronavirus has infected about 5 percent.

Other specialists have also estimated that, without a vaccine, about 70 percent of the population will need to be infected and develop immunity in order to stop the virus’s spread, a concept called herd immunity. The number of confirmed US cases now exceeds 2 million, less than 1 percent of the population, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Dashboard and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Joseph Fair, a virologist who recently recovered from a serious bout of COVID-19, echoed that view on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“Once it gets so ingrained in the population, there’s not a point where we can come back from that other than having a vaccine in place,” said Fair, who is a medical contributor to NBC News.

The CDC recently projected that by July 4, US coronavirus deaths will probably jump from the current level of about 115,000 to somewhere between 124,000 and 140,000.

As he cheered the reopening of the economy during an appearance on CNN, Larry Kudlow encouraged people to keep being smart about venturing out into the world.

‘‘Social distancing guidelines must be observed,’’ Kudlow, the president’s top economic adviser, said Sunday. ‘‘Face-covering in key places must be observed.’’

But when asked whether that meant that Trump’s supporters should don face masks at his upcoming rally, Kudlow demurred.

‘‘Probably so,’’ he said.

On Sunday, Senator James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, was asked on the same CNN program whether he would wear a mask to the rally. He said he ‘‘hadn’t decided on that.’’

‘‘You see actually very few masks in Oklahoma now,’’ Lankford said. He added that his state was ‘‘far ahead of the rest of the country’’ in terms of having controlled the threat of the virus, even though cases in Tulsa and across the state have spiked in the past week.


Material from The New York Times was included in this report.