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North Carolina, GOP convention planners at an impasse over social distancing

  • May 30, 2020

Republican National Convention organizers appear to have hit an impasse with the state of North Carolina over social distancing at the party’s nominating convention, scheduled to be held in Charlotte in late August.

After weeks of trading strongly worded letters, punctuated by angry threats from President Donald Trump to move the convention to a more accommodating city, the GOP organizers appear no closer to getting their desired green light for a massive gathering than they were a month ago.

Meanwhile, the state of North Carolina, where coronavirus cases are still surging, is no closer to getting the Republican nominating event to agree to limits on attendees or social distancing practices, both of which Trump has flatly rejected.

Officials from North Carolina requested in a letter released Friday that the Republican National Committee expand on their plans to host the convention safely while adhering to social distancing guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and enforced by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.

“The CDC currently has interim guidance regarding mass gatherings which details a number of safety protocols that organizers of major events should utilize amid this pandemic. We would ask that the RNC further elaborate on its plans to protect convention participants and the people of Charlotte in accordance with CDC guidance,” said the letter, sent by Mandy Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. 

North Carolina has previously urged the RNC to come up with a plan to carry out the convention safely to minimize potential to the spread of Covid-19. But the RNC has skirted the issue of releasing a social distancing plan in their discussions with North Carolina. 

In a letter released Thursday, the RNC outlined a number of safety protocols such as temperature scans ahead of entry and availability of disinfectant in the convention site.

But absent from their plan is a way to encourage social distancing and cap the number of people who are able to attend the convention.

In a statement to CNBC, the RNC said it was hoping to receive clearer guidance from North Carolina on how to host the convention in August. 

“We had hoped to receive from Gov. Cooper concrete details on how to plan for our Convention in Charlotte. After all, if public schools can be opened early on August 17th we should know how to proceed with an event on August 24th,” said RNC spokesperson Rick Gorka.

“Instead we do not have a commitment that provides clarity or guidance. Like the rest of the state, we will be ready and waiting for North Carolina leadership to offer clear guidance on how we should safely plan for the type of convention for which we originally contracted,” Gorka said.

This stalemate comes days after President Donald Trump said he “will be reluctantly forced” to move the convention, leading several Republican officials in Texas, Atlanta and Florida to pitch their states as possible venues

The coronavirus pandemic has cut the president off from his beloved rallies, and he sees the August convention as a key opportunity to showcase the passion and size of his base of support in the party.

Without the image on television of a packed convention hall wildly cheering for Trump, the president reportedly feels his campaign would appear diminished, and he would be deprived of the scenery that befits an incumbent president being renominated by his party.

Meanwhile, the Democratic National Convention is scheduled to occur the week before the GOP convention, and its organizers have indicated that they are planning to hold a virtual event

In a May 13 statement, the DNC said it is taking these steps to “plan a safe event that guarantees every delegate can accomplish their official business without putting their own health at risk.”

The statement continued: “With much about the scale and impact of the coronavirus pandemic still unknown, this resolution will make it easier for our team to appropriately adjust things like the convention’s format, size, or date as the situation continues to unfold in real time, while still delivering an uplifting and unifying event that puts our nominee on the path to victory in November.”

When reached for comment, DNC Communications Director Xochitl Hinojosa gave the following statement: “100,000 people have died and millions are unemployed given this President’s failed response to the pandemic. In every area, Trump has ignored experts, and now he’s more concerned about packing 50,000 people in a stadium without listening to health officials. We will continue to listen to local and national health officials, and do everything we can to ensure the safety of the people of Milwaukee and all those involved in the convention.”

The outbreak has spread to dozens of countries, with more than 5.8 million confirmed cases worldwide and over 360,800 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. There are at least 1.7 million cases in the United States and at least 101,600 deaths, according to the latest tallies.

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