“With an estimated attendance of up to 4,000 people, the rally poses a concerning public health risk,” Natasha Dwamena, the director of the Hampton and Peninsula Health District, wrote to Richard Martinez, the general manager of Atlantic Aviation.
The letter warned that exceeding limits ordered by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) could result in misdemeanor charges and possible revocation of the firm’s business license. It also said that the state health commissioner could seek an injunction, but that would be after the fact and would not prevent the event from going forward.
A woman who answered the phone at Atlantic Aviation declined to take a message for Martinez, saying, “We have nothing to do with the event.” She said the event would be hosted by an organization called Spirit of Liberty, but she declined to provide contact information for that group.
State officials said Atlantic owns or holds the long-term lease on the hangar but may have rented the space to another group for the event. Health officials did not send letters to that group or to the Trump campaign.
Samantha Cotten, regional spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. She and a national spokesperson have declined to respond to questions about the size of the rally since announcing plans for it this week.
In a conference call with Cotten on Thursday, Virginia GOP chairman Rich Anderson told reporters he expects the rally to be on par with the “gargantuan” rallies for which Trump has been known. Anderson said he was “not particularly concerned” about exceeding the 250-person limit.
“Our very own governor has permitted huge, gargantuan numbers of people in the streets,” he said, referring to the demonstrations that erupted in Richmond and elsewhere in the state after the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis in May.
Conservative radio host John Fredericks, Trump’s Virginia delegation chairman, called the warnings politically motivated.
“The Democrats in Virginia are in an all-out panic as they see Virginia slipping away,” he said.
Northam has imposed a range of public health orders since declaring a state of emergency in March because of the novel coronavirus. The 250-person cap on gatherings applies to public and private events, indoors and out.
Over the past six months, health officials shut down several restaurants for failing to observe pandemic restrictions, including some in Richmond and Mechanicsville.
Dwamena’s letter asked that the event be canceled or scaled down to 250 people, with six-foot social distancing between attendees and speakers not of the same household.
“Considerable evidence from similar events held by this organization show face covering requirements are not being enforced at these events,” Dwamena’s letter said, referring to other Trump rallies. “Social distancing, strongly recommended as essential to stop the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, is also not enforced at these events.”
State Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine and Health Secretary Daniel Carey raised similar concerns in a letter to Michael Giardino, the executive director of the airport. The airport is, under state law, a “political subdivision of the Commonwealth,” with the powers of a city or county.
They remind Giardino of the 250-person limit and note that the state allows 1,000 people to gather “only for entertainment venues.”
“As of today, Virginia’s COVID-19 cases continue to decline, statewide hospitalizations are dropping and the percent of positive tests statewide is at a record low of 5.3 percent,” they wrote. “We all have a responsibility to ensure these positive trends continue.”