Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday asked President Donald Trump to cancel a campaign rally planned for Saturday outside Harrisburg, citing the president’s violation of state public health guidelines at previous campaign events and urging him not to expose Pennsylvanians to the coronavirus “by holding unsafe rallies."
“To hold this event is not just misguided, it is dangerous, it is manipulative, and it is wrong,” Wolf said Friday in a statement. “I would ask Pennsylvanians to think of the health and safety of their families and their communities before attending this event or any rally put on by the Trump campaign. And I would ask the president, for once, to put the health of his constituents ahead of his own political fortunes.”
In response, the Trump campaign said attendees at Harrisburg International Airport would have their temperatures checked, be provided with masks and encouraged to wear them, and be supplied with hand sanitizer on Saturday evening.
“If even the governor himself can join crowds of people protesting arm in arm in the streets, then certainly people can gather peacefully under the First Amendment to hear from the president of the United States," Courtney Parrella, deputy press secretary for the Trump campaign, told The Inquirer.
With hundreds or thousands of supporters packed together and few wearing masks — a coronavirus prevention practice Trump has largely eschewed and sometimes mocked — Trump’s campaign rallies across the country, including one at Pittsburgh International Airport on Tuesday, have defied states' COVID-19 rules and drawn worry and criticism from public health officials.
At the Pittsburgh-area rally, few aside from those standing directly behind the president wore masks. On stage, Trump mocked his opponent, Democrat Joe Biden, for regularly wearing a face covering.
Wolf, a Democrat, cited that rally in his statement and said his office had sent a letter to the Trump campaign on Sept. 10 after a rally in Beaver County, asking it to follow the state’s COVID-19 measures. But Friday was the first time the governor publicly swung at the president’s campaign events in the state.
It came on a day when universities in the region reported more coronavirus cases and Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said the United States remains in the first wave of the pandemic, which has killed more than 203,000 Americans.
Pennsylvania State University said Friday that a total of 2,123 coronavirus cases have been confirmed among its students, up from 1,665 on Tuesday. Of those, 819 are active cases. This week, president Eric Barron said the numbers do not require a pivot to all-remote instruction and contended that the school has been able to manage the spread of the virus.
Temple University reported 62 active cases, according to the latest numbers on its dashboard, down from the more than 200 cases it had earlier this month when it moved to largely remote instruction due to the outbreak, which has infected nearly 450 students in total.
And Rowan University students living on and off campus have contributed to an increase in coronavirus cases in Gloucester County, which is among several New Jersey counties seeing rising case numbers, officials said. As of Friday, the university had reported 48 active and 442 total cases.
Gloucester County has confirmed 130 new cases since Monday, while Ocean County has reported 439. State officials said they believed the spike there could be a partial result of Rosh Hashanah holiday gatherings.
New Jersey confirmed 612 new cases and seven deaths on Friday. Pennsylvania reported 806 newly confirmed cases and two deaths on Friday.
Wolf’s request came the day after a Virginia public health official warned Trump’s Friday evening rally at the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport would pose a “severe public health threat” and asked for the rally to be canceled or rescheduled — or to comply with the state’s order that no more than 250 people gather in one place; 4,000 were expected, the Associated Press reported.
Officials in other states have also tried to enforce their coronavirus orders in the face of Trump’s refusal to wear a mask when visiting their states.
The governor of Nevada, a Democrat, criticized Trump after the president and most of his supporters at a rally outside Las Vegas did not wear masks last week, and the city where the rally was held fined the business that hosted it, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. Earlier this week, public health officials in North Carolina told the estimated 5,600 people who attended a Trump rally to get tested for the virus, according to the Fayetteville Observer.
Before another North Carolina campaign rally earlier this month, the county GOP chair said Trump needed to follow the governor’s coronavirus order by wearing a mask to the event; Trump did not. And in May, the attorney general of Michigan sent a warning to Ford Motor Co. for allowing Trump to appear without a mask during a plant visit.
In Pennsylvania, Trump would be again violating the state mask mandate if he does not wear one on Saturday, and would be flouting Wolf’s social distancing guidance. The state’s limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings, however, are not in effect after a federal judge in Pittsburgh this month struck them down as unconstitutional, a decision the governor’s administration is appealing.
The Pennsylvania GOP called Wolf’s criticism “awfully selective and hypocritical.”
“The governor is concerned when the president hosts a peaceful protest — but safety clearly wasn’t an issue when he himself walked in one," Vonne Andring, the state party’s executive director, said in a statement.
The Trump campaign has referred to its events, which are often held in spacious airplane hangars, as peaceful protests in reference to the racial justice protests that began in May, which were largely allowed by local and state officials in spite of pandemic guidelines because protesting is a First Amendment right.
Wolf recommended that any resident who attends Trump’s rally wear a mask and maintain distance from others during the event.
“His decision to bring thousands of people together in a tight space in the midst of a global pandemic caused by an airborne virus is flat-out wrong," Wolf said. “It is dangerous and disappointing that the president continues to ignore science and his own health advisers while putting the lives of those who support him at risk.”