As Iowa surpassed 100,000 confirmed coronavirus cases Monday and remained the fourth-highest state for rate of infection, the mayor of Des Moines expressed concern that President Donald Trump’s rally this week at the city’s airport could become a super-spreader event.
The state averaged 1,300 new cases per day over the past four days, and during that time there were an additional 46 deaths. As of Monday morning, confirmed Iowa had reported 100,052 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,464 deaths from the disease since the pandemic started.
The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Iowa has risen over the past two weeks, from 16.39% on Sept. 27 to 18.44% on Oct. 11, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. That rate places Iowa fourth behind Idaho, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
With polls showing a tight race between the Republican Trump and Democrat Joe Biden, the president plans a Wednesday rally at a cargo hangar at the Des Moines International Airport. Trump acknowledged Oct. 2 that he had tested positive for COVID-19, and he now plans to resume campaigning despite skepticism about whether he could spread the virus.
Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie has required face coverings to be worn in public in the city since August, but Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has refused to implement a statewide order and has insisted that such local rules can’t be enforced.
Cownie said he’s worried that Trump’s visit could become a super-spreader event. He said it appears in media photos and video that such large rallies Trump has held elsewhere often do not have proper distancing and include people not wearing masks.
“We are hoping that here in Iowa that everybody will make proper use of these guidelines and do everything necessary to make it different from what we’re seeing,” he said.
Kayla Kovarna, an airport spokeswoman, said airport officials were told to prepare for up to 10,000 people, although an exact number isn’t yet clear since tickets can still be obtained.
Iowa Democratic Party Chair Mark Smith said the state should not be hosting the event.
“In no way, shape or form should Governor Reynolds or any of our Republican leaders allow for this event to happen. Iowans need a President who will put the health and safety of the country above their own ego,” he said in a statement.
Reynolds’ current state emergency proclamation allows mass gatherings of more than 10 people but requires organizers to ensure there is at least 6 feet of physical distance between each group or individual. It also requires reasonable measures be taken to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
A spokesman for Reynolds, who is an avid supporter of Trump, didn’t immediately respond to a question about whether the proclamation applies to the rally. She said in a statement that she will attend the rally and take precautions and “is encouraging those attending to adhere to the public health steps the campaign is taking such as temperature checks, and the use of hand sanitizer and masks.”
Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said the event will be in an open door airplane hangar.
“We will have safety protocols in place. All attendees will be given a temperature check, masks, which they are instructed to wear, and access to hand sanitizer,” he said.
The Facebook invitation to apply for tickets included a statement that said attendees “voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19 and waive, release and discharge” the Trump campaign from any liability.
Polk County, which includes ,Des Moines and the airport, has a 14-day average positivity rate of 6.4 percent. The county had a peak in virus activity in early September and has been experiencing a slow reduction in daily cases. The county is still averaging almost 70 new cases per day, county public health officials said in a report posted on Oct. 6.
As of Monday, only four of Iowa’s 99 counties were below 5% positivity, a rate at which many health experts recommend enactment of public health measures to slow the spread including mask use, limiting large gatherings and social distancing.
This story has been corrected to reflect that the Trump rally will not take place in an airport hangar that belongs to the National Guard.
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