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As COVID-19 roars back in U.S., Trump rallies in battleground Arizona

"Rallies are perfect places for so-called super-spreader events," said Barun Mathema, an epidemiologist at Columbia University in New York, adding that the risk increases when attendees do not wear masks, which is the case for many of the people attending Trump events. Officials in Michigan and Minnesota told Reuters they identified people who attended Trump campaign events in their states and later tested positive for COVID-19, though it was not clear if they were first exposed to the virus at the rallies or elsewhere.

Reuters | Washington DC | Updated: 29-10-2020 02:27 IST | Created: 29-10-2020 01:21 IST
As COVID-19 roars back in U.S., Trump rallies in battleground Arizona
Representative image Image Credit: ANI

With less than a week of voting left, President Donald Trump on Wednesday held an in-person campaign rally in Arizona despite a U.S. surge in COVID-19 cases and mounting criticism that he is prioritizing his re-election above the health of his supporters. The pandemic that has upended life across the United States this year, killing more than 227,000 people, is roaring back in the days leading up to the Nov. 3 contest when Republican Trump faces Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

Biden holds a comfortable lead in national polls, which also show a public increasingly dismayed by Trump's handling of the largest public health crisis in U.S. living memory. Polls in battleground states that will likely decide the election are tighter than the national surveys. After a briefing from public health officials on Wednesday, the former vice president slammed what he called the Trump administration's disregard for safety and failure to develop a plan to contain COVID-19. Polls show Americans trust Biden more than Trump to contain the virus.

"The longer he's in charge the more reckless he gets," Biden told reporters, before casting his own vote in Wilmington, Delaware. Biden criticized his rival over reports that hundreds of Trump supporters were stuck in the cold for up to three hours after a rally in Omaha, Nebraska, on Tuesday night, waiting for campaign shuttle buses to take them back to their cars.

"It's an image that captured President Trump's whole approach to this crisis ... He gets his photo-op and then he gets out," he said. The Trump campaign said the problems were due to the unexpectedly large crowds.

Trump's running mate, Vice President Mike Pence, will campaign on Wednesday in Wisconsin, where a record number of coronavirus cases has prompted the Democratic governor to urge people to stay at home. Wisconsin broke one-day state records in cases and deaths on Tuesday. State officials have asked residents to quarantine voluntarily, wear masks and cancel social gatherings with more than five people. Each of Trump's rallies in recent days have drawn several thousand people.

"There's no way to sugarcoat it - we are facing an urgent crisis and there is an imminent risk to you, your family members, your friends, your neighbors, and the people you care about," Governor Tony Evers said. "Stay home, Wisconsin." 'SUPER-SPREADER EVENTS'

Epidemiologists say rallies posed grave public health risks during the pandemic because people shout and chant while packed closely together, aiding the spread of the virus. "Rallies are perfect places for so-called super-spreader events," said Barun Mathema, an epidemiologist at Columbia University in New York, adding that the risk increases when attendees do not wear masks, which is the case for many of the people attending Trump events.

Officials in Michigan and Minnesota told Reuters they identified people who attended Trump campaign events in their states and later tested positive for COVID-19, though it was not clear if they were first exposed to the virus at the rallies or elsewhere. The Trump campaign is taking all necessary precautions at Pence's event, campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley told CNN.

Asked whether holding a big rally raised safety concerns given that aides to Pence have tested positive and Wisconsin hospitals are near capacity, Gidley said: "No, it doesn't ... The vice president has the best doctors in the world around him. They've obviously contact traced and come to the conclusion it's fine for him to be out on the campaign trail." Reuters/Ipsos polling from Oct. 20-26 shows Biden with a solid lead over Trump, 53%-44%, in Wisconsin, which as a battleground state could help decide the election.

After racing across Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska on Tuesday and staying overnight in Las Vegas, Trump was due to hold airport rallies in Bullhead City, Arizona, and Goodyear, outside Phoenix, Arizona's biggest city. He was due to move on to Florida and North Carolina on Thursday, then return to the Midwest on Friday in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

In all, Trump plans to visit 10 states in the last week of the campaign and will host 11 rallies in the final 48 hours, a campaign official said. A pro-Biden group, Priorities USA Action, said its recent polling in six battleground states found that when people were told Trump was holding large rallies without mask-wearing requirements, most disapproved.

Local media coverage of the rallies could partially make up for Trump's disadvantage in advertising spending, said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "On the other hand, more exposure doesn't necessarily lead to more votes, and I wonder if some on the fence might be turned off by the total disregard for COVID protocols," Kondik said.

Biden raised about $130 million during the Oct. 1-14 period, about three times the roughly $44 million raised by Trump's campaign, according to disclosures filed on Oct. 22 with the Federal Election Commission. More than 74 million people have cast early in-person and mail ballots, according to data compiled by the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida. That is a record-setting pace and more than 53% of the total 2016 turnout.

The huge volume of mail ballots - more than 48 million have already been cast - could take days or weeks to tally, experts say, meaning a winner might not be declared the night of Nov. 3, when polls close. Only eight of the 50 states expect to have as many as 98% of ballots counted and publicly reported by midday on the day after the election, according to a New York Times survey of election officials.


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