'We don't want a super-spread event': Cownie worries Trump rally will spread COVID-19

Philip Joens
Des Moines Register
President Donald Trump speaks to the crowd during a campaign rally on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, at the Knapp Center in Des Moines.

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie says he is worried a rally planned by President Donald Trump at the Des Moines International Airport could cause COVID-19 to spread in the city. 

Preya Samsundar, the Republican National Committee’s spokesperson in Iowa, did not immediately know how many tickets will be issued or the number of people expected to attend. Trump Campaign Director Tim Murtaugh did not say how many people will attend or tickets will be issued in a statement sent by the campaign to the Register.

The campaign encourages attendees to wear masks and socially distance, Samsundar said. They will have their temperatures checked and will be given masks, with instructions to wear them, Murtaugh said in a statement. But Trump has held other rallies where many of the people in attendance did not maintain social distance and, like him, did not wear masks.

"Absolutely I'm worried about the spread," Cownie said. "We don't want a super-spread event here in Des Moines," Cownie said. "We urge everyone who would attend this event to wear a mask and social distance as best they can, and to stay safe and healthy.”

Des Moines International Airport was told to prepare for up to 10,000 people, said spokeswoman Kayla Kovarna.

On Monday Kovarna said the rally at 6 p.m. Wednesday will be held on the south cargo apron on the airport's tarmac. UPS and FedEx normally use the area, Kovarna said. The Des Moines International Airport Authority leases the land from the city.

Kovarna did not know if the city's mask mandate would apply there. A health and safety tent will be set up, she said.

Attendees will also have access to hand sanitizer, Murtaugh, Trump's campaign manager, said in the statement. 

“The event is at an open door airplane hangar where people will be expressing their First Amendment rights and hearing from the President of the United States," Murtaugh said in the statement. "We will have safety protocols in place.

In August, Des Moines mandated masks in public places where social distancing cannot be maintained, but violations of the requirement carry no penalty. 

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, has declined to issue a statewide mask mandate, despite repeated recommendations from the White House coronavirus task force that she do so, and she has said local governments do not have the authority to impose their own requirements.

At 10 a.m. Monday, Iowa reported 100,052 cases of COVID-19, an increase of 432 cases since 10 a.m. Saturday. A total of 1,464 people died from COVID-19 as of 10 a.m. Monday, an increase of four from the previous day. 

Cownie said he encourages everyone to wear a mask, wash their hands and be smart. 

“We all have to do everything we can do to keep our [COVID-19] numbers down,” Cownie said. “It’s proven, it’s scientific facts.”

The airport is encouraging everyone who goes to enter the airport off 28th Street. Traffic getting to the airport will be heavier than normal, but operations at the airport will not be impacted much, Kovarna said. 

A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll released Sept. 22 showed Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden locked in a tie in Iowa. Other state polls since then have shown Biden with a slight lead.

Trump won Iowa in 2016 with a nearly 10-point margin over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

It remains unclear which Iowa GOP politicians will attend Wednesday's rally. Pat Garrett, spokesman for Reynolds, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, who is in a tight re-election race with Democrat Theresa Greenfield, will be involved in the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on Trump Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, and her spokesman said Saturday he was not sure if she would be at Trump's event. 

Michael Zona, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, said Grassley will not attend because he will be at Barrett's confirmation hearing.

Thousands of people attended a Trump campaign rally in January at the Knapp Center at Drake University.

On Oct. 2, Trump said he and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19. He was hospitalized for three days at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he was treated before returning to the White House Oct. 5. 

Saturday, he held his first public event since his return from the hospital, appearing on a White House balcony to address a crowd on the South Lawn.

On Sunday, Trump claimed he no longer had COVID-19, but the White House declined to say if he had tested negative for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Trump's physician, Dr. Sean Conley, also said Trump is no longer likely to transmit COVID-19 to others but did not address whether Trump has tested negative for the virus.

Trump was last in Iowa in August when he surveyed damage in Cedar Rapids from that month's derecho. Vice President Mike Pence last visited Iowa Oct. 1, a day before Trump confirmed he tested positive for COVID-19. 

Biden has not visited Iowa since the January Democratic caucuses, where he finished well behind top vote-getters Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders. He secured the nomination after a string of primary victories that began Feb. 29 in South Carolina.

Philip Joens covers breaking news for The Des Moines Register. He can be reached at 515-443-3347 at pjoens@registermedia.com or on Twitter @Philip_Joens. 

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