AP Photo/Jim Mone
President Donald Trump is scheduled to take the stage at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday night for his first campaign rally since the coronavirus pandemic shut down most of the US.
To sign up for the rally online, prospective attendees must accept a warning about the novel coronavirus that absolves the Trump campaign and the venue of responsibility for “illness or injury.”
A spokeswoman for the BOK Center didn’t say whether employees would sign such a waiver, and told Business Insider on Thursday that the Trump campaign still hasn’t sent them a “written plan detailing the steps the event will institute for health and safety, including those related to social distancing.”
Experts worry the indoor rally, where thousands of people are expected to be in close contact for hours, is the perfect storm for a coronavirus superspreader event.
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With just two days until President Donald Trump is scheduled to take the stage in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for his first rally since the coronavirus pandemic shut down most of the US, details on the safety of the event are hard to come by.
The BOK Center — the 19,000-seat indoor arena where the campaign rally is supposed to take place Saturday night — said the Trump campaign still hasn’t sent a plan for protecting people from the coronavirus.
“Given the Tulsa Health Department’s recent reports of increases in coronavirus cases and the State of Oklahoma’s encouragement for event organizers to follow CDC guidelines, we have requested that the Trump campaign, as the event organizer, provide BOK Center with a written plan detailing the steps the event will institute for health and safety, including those related to social distancing,” Meghan Blood, a spokeswoman for ASM Global, the company that manages the venue, told Business Insider on Thursday. “Once received, we will share the plan with local health officials.”
While attendees must sign a waiver absolving the campaign and venue of liability if they contract COVID-19, Trump’s campaign, ASM Global, and city officials wouldn’t answer whether event staff members would do the same or offer many specifics on how employees working the event would be protected.
The rally, set to be the president’s first since his March 2 event in Charlotte, North Carolina, was initially scheduled for Friday, though the president moved it back a day because it originally fell on Juneteenth, the June 19 holiday that recognizes the end of slavery in the US.
The originally scheduled date was even more striking given that the BOK Center is just blocks from the site of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, which destroyed the neighborhood known as Black Wall Street and killed up to 300 Black Tulsans.
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
On Monday, Business Insider requested information from representatives for the BOK Center about who was staffing the rally and whether any private security contractors would be used at the event. On Tuesday, Blood told Business Insider the venue was proceeding with the rally because doing so was allowed under Oklahoma’s “Open Up and Recover Safely” guidelines.
“Government officials have advised that the campaign rally as planned is consistent with the guidance for the OURS plan for entertainment venues; however, in the event that the governing authorities impose new restrictions, we will notify the event organizers immediately,” she said.
State guidelines for entertainment venues say “business owners and event organizers should use their best judgement taking into account factors such as location and size of venue when determining the appropriate levels of social distancing and group size.”
In a separate message, Blood told Business Insider that any questions about venue security should be directed toward the president’s campaign. While the BOK Center typically uses private security, on Wednesday she said security at the rally would be “taken care of by Secret Service.” Multiple attempts to reach the Trump campaign went unanswered.
Concession stands will be open during the rally, and attendees won’t be required to wear masks
William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Vendors and the concession stands will be open during the event, Blood said, adding that workers “will be making sure to follow current CDC guidelines” and that “Plexiglass partitions will be placed at all concession locations.”
Current Oklahoma guidelines for food establishments recommend — but do not require — social distancing among employees and customers.
Blood said she could not say how many employees were working at the Saturday rally because that number was “fluctuating.”
On its website, the venue said it would “enforce” personal protective equipment for employees and increase sanitation for the event:
“BOK Center is taking extra precautions to increase sanitation efforts for this event and other events moving forward. Employee temperature screenings and necessary personal protective equipment for employees will be enforced. Additional hand sanitizer stations and increased cleaning of high-touch areas will also be conducted.”
Blood followed up on Thursday and said employees will also be tested, and that the center had added 400 hand sanitizing station throughout the building for staff and attendees.
Michelle Brooks, a spokeswoman for the city of Tulsa, which owns the BOK Center, told Business Insider to send its staffing questions to Blood. While the city owns the BOK Center, she said employees of the venue were not considered employees of the city of Tulsa.
Brooks said questions about the local law-enforcement presence at the Saturday event should be directed to the Tulsa Police Department, which told Business Insider it did not have any information to release about the Saturday event. The department tweeted Tuesday that it was working with the Secret Service and other agencies to plan for the president’s visit, including any protests.
The city will not bill the campaign for costs such as police overtime and traffic control, Brooks told the reporter Dave Levinthal.
Rally-goers are asked to waive their right to sue the BOK Center and Trump campaign if they contract COVID-19
Rally attendees are asked to sign a waiver before registering for the event that would prevent them from taking legal action against either the Trump campaign or the BOK Center if they contracted COVID-19 at the rally. The Trump campaign, the BOK Center, and the city of Tulsa did not say whether any security or other employees working at the event would have to make a similar agreement.
“By clicking register below, you are acknowledging that an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present,” the disclaimer said.
On its website, the BOK Center said it would check attendees’ temperatures upon entry and provide masks. But attendees won’t be required to wear them, the Republican National Committee’s chairwoman, Ronna McDaniel, told Fox News on Monday. Blood told Business Insider on Thursday that the BOK Center will “encourage all attendees to remain masked throughout the duration of the event until they exit the building.”
Current Oklahoma guidelines recommend — but don’t require — that “outdoor and enclosed large venues such as ballparks and arenas should maintain spaced seating between groups that do not share a household such as every other row empty, staggered seating, or at least two seats empty between parties.”
It’s unclear whether the BOK Center will stagger seating or reduce capacity to follow the state health department’s guidelines.
While the president tweeted nearly a million people had expressed interest in attending the rally, Tulsa officials have said they expect about 100,000. The BOK Center has a capacity of just over 19,000. Social-media users have apparently registered for the free event in an effort to troll the president, so it’s unclear how many actually plan to attend. People will be let in on a first-come, first-served basis.
Public-health experts worry the indoor rally could be a super-spreader event
As Business Insider’s Aylin Woodward previously reported, experts worry that the Saturday rally could be a coronavirus super-spreader event. Time and time again, clusters of cases have been reported after large groups of people spent time together inside yelling, singing, or talking loudly.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Wednesday marked the single biggest daily increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma since the pandemic began, with 259.
Most COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma have been in Tulsa County, according to the state health department. Tulsa County also hit a new high Wednesday, with 96 new reported cases of the disease.
“The risk certainly applies to everyone present at the location: attendees, organizers, staff, security people, and everybody who is inside,” William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, told Business Insider. “Even people working outside to keep lines orderly and provide security — they are going to have a lot of close contact. Maybe less than they would if they were inside, but nonetheless they’ll have a lot of exposure.”
The Tulsa City-County Health Department’s director, Bruce Dart, who did not return Business Insider’s request for comment, told Tulsa World he would prefer that the president’s rally be rescheduled.
“I think it’s an honor for Tulsa to have a sitting president want to come and visit our community, but not during a pandemic,” Dart said. “I’m concerned about our ability to protect anyone who attends a large, indoor event, and I’m also concerned about our ability to ensure the president stays safe as well.”
GT Bynum, the city’s Republican mayor, has said he’s anxious about the coming rally but will not try to block it, Tulsa World reported.
“Do I share anxiety about having a full house at the BOK Center? Of course,” Bynum said. “As someone who is cautious by nature, I don’t like to be the first to try anything. I would have loved some other city to have proven the safety of such an event already.”
On Wednesday, Bynum told reporters he would not say whether he believed the president’s rally would be “safe” but said it wasn’t his “decision to make” about whether to postpone the rally, according to the KOCO reporter Dillon Richards.
Hundreds of Oklahoma nurses and doctors have urged leaders to cancel Trump’s Tulsa rally over concerns it will be a super-spreader event.
A Tulsa judge on Tuesday declined to issue a temporary injunction against the rally that city residents and business owners had requested, according to The Washington Post.
This story has been updated with additional information from the BOK Center sent after publication.
Read the original article on Business Insider