Trump’s on-again, off-again convention in Charlotte set for Aug. 24-27, but it’s unclear whether the president or the media will attend.
The Republican National Convention’s top doctor shared health measures designed to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks with the Charlotte City Council this week, but he warned that the gathering was “still a high-risk event.”
Dr. Jeffrey Runge, the RNC’s senior health and medical advisor, briefed council members 11 days before the scaled-down RNC events are scheduled to commence in North Carolina’s largest city.
Runge promised there would be 100% compliance with wearing masks and maintaining 6 feet of distance indoors. Attendees will be screened for coronavirus before they even come to Charlotte. Once in the city, they will also undergo regular health screenings, including “daily symptom tracking” and temperature checks, The Charlotte Observer reported.
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The convention was originally expected to attract more than 50,000 visitors over the course of a week and fill the 19,000-capacity Spectrum Center uptown on multiple nights.
In June, the gathering was reduced to a business-only event, with the traditional spectacle and speeches moved to Jacksonville, Fla. when Gov. Roy Cooper refused to lower the state’s coronavirus-related restrictions to comply with President Trump’s wishes for a full-scale convention without masks and social distancing.
In July, soaring infection rates in Jacksonville forced Trump to scrap his plans to go to Florida too, and the gathering moved back to North Carolina.
All events for the reduced convention, which comes to Charlotte Aug. 21 through 24, will be held uptown at The Westin Charlotte hotel and the Charlotte Convention Center. Between 400 to 500 visitors are expected, including 336 delegates.
“I am very happy that this is scaled-down,” Runge said. “This actually gets us to a convention that we can control.”
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Runge’s detailed health plans come as the Charlotte area contends with the highest COVID-19 caseload in North Carolina. As of Tuesday afternoon, Mecklenburg County, home to Charlotte, reports 22,315 coronavirus cases and 232 deaths.
The pandemic has forced North Carolina to extend Phase Two of Cooper’s reopening plan to at least Sept. 11. Under current restrictions, indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people. On Friday, state officials loosened those limits for the RNC, making the convention the largest sanctioned gathering to take place in Charlotte since the pandemic began, The Observer reported.
According to The Charlotte Business Journal, Runge told the City Council Monday: “This is a serious issue. The way we mitigate that is to put in multiple layers of risk reduction that can bring that risk level down into the acceptable range.”
On the plus side, the Charlotte Convention Center’s air-filtration system is close to hospital-grade quality, Runge said.
To quell the spread of COVID-19, the center’s largest room, which will hold all 336 delegates, will be sectioned off into groups of 31 to 53 people, WCNC reported. All chairs will be separated by 6 feet, Runge offered, while attendees will undergo daily temperature checks and symptom checks.
Medical staff will be on hand to make visual evaluations, Runge explained. If someone seems ill, they will be isolated until they can be tested and the results come back.
The GOP will also track delegates’ movements with badges equipped with Bluetooth technology. The badges, worn by attendees, will facilitate contact tracing by recording who they come into contact with and for how long, Runge said.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Chief Johnny Jennings told Council members that the RNC could draw demonstrators to the convention center.
Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris pointed out that masks will be provided to protestors. But, because demonstrations will take place outdoors, Harris said the risk of contagion should be low.
The number of potential protestors is hard to assess, Jennings said, because it’s unlikely that Trump or Vice President Mike Pence will be present at the RNC.
On July 27, Trump told WRAL that he would be making his acceptance speech in Charlotte, but he later said he would deliver his speech from either the White House or the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Although Trump has contradicted earlier statements by the RNC, and has asserted that reporters will be welcome at the convention, it’s still not clear if the media will be allowed to attend the gathering. NPR reported that Runge didn’t mention reporters during Monday night’s presentation Monday to the Charlotte City Council, and that the RNC’s 42-page health plan makes no reference to the media.