Trump rally likely contributed to surge in COVID-19 cases, Tulsa health official says

"We had several large events... so I guess we just connect the dots."

July 9, 2020, 5:13 AM

President Donald Trump's campaign rally in late June, as well as the accompanying counterprotests, likely contributed to the area's recent spike in coronavirus cases, Tulsa City-County Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart said Wednesday.

"In the past few days, we've seen almost 500 new cases, and we had several large events just over two weeks ago, so I guess we just connect the dots," Dart said at a press conference.

Dart, who said prior to the rally he'd recommended it be postponed over health concerns, added on Wednesday that "significant events in the past few weeks" had "more than likely contributed" to Tulsa County's surge in cases.

Tulsa County reported 261 new cases on Tuesday, a new record high. The state also broke records this week with 858 new cases on Tuesday and 673 on Wednesday.

"We continue to go up and are at a new peak," Dr. Dale Bratzler, the chief COVID-19 officer at the University of Oklahoma, told ABC News Monday.

Hospitals in the area are also beginning to report strain. Hillcrest HealthCare System, a major provider in Oklahoma with two hospitals in Tulsa, is nearly at capacity.

President Donald Trump pumps his fist as he enters his first re-election campaign rally in several months in the midst of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, June 20, 2020.
Leah Millis/Reuters

"We are running at 90-95% inpatient capacity in our Hillcrest Tulsa metro hospitals and ICUs," Dr. Guy Sneed, the chief medical officer at Hillcrest HealthCare System, told ABC News. "Many of our COVID patients are very sick and require ICU services, including mechanical ventilator support. Some are also requiring ECMO services."

"So, the strain on our existing hospital resources remains high, as it does for the other Tulsa area acute care hospitals," he added.

In the lead-up to last month's event, health experts raised concerns that the president's rally could end up being a dangerous event in terms of possible infections. "I'm really very concerned about this event being a superspreader-type event where there will be potentially many people coming out of this who were exposed and could become sick from COVID-19," Dr. Lena Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University told ABC News.

And when asked on Wednesday why the president continues to hold campaign rallies amid the ongoing pandemic, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said it's "people's individual choice as to whether to go," and noted that the campaign handed out masks.

McEnany also said she had "no data to indicate" that the Tulsa rally contributed to the surge in cases.

In a statement to ABC News, the Trump campaign looked to deflect attention toward the ongoing protests for racial justice, targeting "the media" when asked about Tulsa health officials suggesting the president's rally contributed to surge in cases.

"There were literally no health precautions to speak of as thousands looted, rioted and protested in the streets and the media reported that it did not lead to a rise in coronavirus cases," Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign's communications director said. "Meanwhile, the president's rally was 18 days ago, all attendees had their temperature checked, everyone was provided a mask, and there was plenty of hand sanitizer available for all. It's obvious that the media's concern about large gatherings begins and ends with Trump rallies."

Donald Trump arrives for a campaign rally at the BOK Center on June 20, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

While the Trump campaign conducted temperature checks and handed out masks and hand sanitizer in Tulsa, social distancing was not enforced, and most rallygoers did not wear masks inside the arena.

At least eight Trump campaign advance staffers in Tulsa, two of which attended the rally, tested positive for the virus.

Former 2012 presidential candidate Herman Cain, 74 -- who attended the Tulsa rally as a Trump campaign surrogate and was photographed inside the arena not wearing a mask -- has spent the week in the hospital after testing positive for the coronavirus.

The national chair of the Trump Victory Finance Committee, Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is dating the president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., tested positive for the coronavirus while in South Dakota for the president's Fourth of July speech. Guilfoyle also attended the Tulsa rally and was photographed not wearing a mask at the event.

The president will hold his second large-scale official campaign rally amid the ongoing pandemic on Saturday in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, despite surges in cases around the country. The Trump campaign will again not require attendees to wear masks and social distancing won't be enforced. Staffers will do temperature checks and pass out hand sanitizer and masks.

Each person who attended Trump's rally in Tulsa, and will attend Saturday's event in New Hampshire, must agree to a waiver that says they won't sue the president's campaign if they get sick.