On Wednesday, that meant redirecting questions about whether the president’s planned rally in Tulsa on Saturday might put attendees at risk, given the coronavirus pandemic. McEnany consulted her notes: Wasn’t the real problem, she asked, that the media is questioning Trump’s rally while not questioning large protests centered on the Black Lives Matter movement? She cherry-picked some examples of news outlets covering the BLM rallies and then elevating concerns from public health professionals about the Tulsa rally as though those things were necessarily in conflict.
The Washington Post and other outlets did cover the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus at the recent protests. Health experts note, though, that the outdoor protests and a large indoor rally are not equivalent in their levels of risk. The novelty of the virus means hard data are few and far between, but while crowds and speaking loudly appear to increase the risk of spreading the virus, it also appears to dissipate quickly outdoors. Meaning a packed room — and, as Trump likes to boast, his rallies are packed — with people mingling in the same area for several hours is probably riskier than a more loosely organized public march.
That’s not the only thing that’s worrying authorities in Tulsa, though.
Covid-19, the disease the virus causes, “is here in Tulsa,” Bruce Dart, the director of the city’s health department said in an interview on Saturday. “It is transmitting very efficiently. I wish we could postpone this to a time when the virus isn’t as large a concern as it is today.”
That, perhaps more than anything else, is the worry. The seven-day average of new coronavirus cases in both Tulsa County and the state of Oklahoma hit new highs on Tuesday. The virus, far from fading as Trump’s visit looms, is peaking.
The White House has tried to argue that such spikes are a function of increased testing. In Oklahoma, that’s not the case. If we compare the change in the daily average number of new cases and completed tests since June 1, you see the number of cases in Oklahoma has increased rapidly even as the number of tests being completed each day has dropped.
Compare that with the change in the United States broadly and in the state of New York, where there have been a number of large protests. Most of those protests were recent enough that any new coronavirus cases wouldn’t yet show up in the daily numbers. But, relative to June 1, new cases in New York are down, and they are flat in the country overall, while in each case, testing has increased.
That pattern is the one public health officials want to see. Especially because of the lag in detecting cases. New infections often aren’t identified until days after they occur, meaning the case totals in Oklahoma and in Tulsa are higher than what’s captured in the data.
A rally in New York state would still be problematic, given the combination of crowd, duration and indoor space, but at least the rate at which the virus is spreading is decreasing and not increasing. On Tuesday, New York added 3.2 new cases for every 100,000 residents. Oklahoma added 5.8. Tulsa County added 11.7.
Regardless of whether a news network should have run a story about the BLM protests within an hour of a story about the safety of Trump rally attendees, that’s a worrisome figure.