RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina’s top health official asked Friday for more details on how GOP leaders will protect attendees of a Republican National Convention this summer during the COVID-19 pandemic.
President Donald Trump has threatened to move his formal renomination elsewhere if he does not soon get guarantees of being able to hold a large-scale event.
In a letter responding to correspondence by convention officials, state Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen sought more specifics beyond the safety protocols the GOP leaders said they want approved for the August event in Charlotte.
In particular, Cohen asked to confirm whether Trump wanted to hold his nomination event on the convention’s final night with “people together in a crowd-like setting” and without social distancing or face masks for participants. The GOP’s letter Thursday did not mention such a request, but Cohen said it had been discussed by phone.
Cohen also wanted numbers on how many people would be inside the downtown Charlotte arena where nightly events are slated to be held, and how social distancing would occur within the Spectrum Center.
Right now, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order prevents mass indoor assemblies of more than 10 people, but that could change in the weeks leading up to the convention if case and hospitalization numbers keep improving.
“The state continues to support the hosting of the Republican National Convention in Charlotte if it can be done safelty,” Cohen wrote to Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and convention CEO Marcia Lee Kelly. “We remain committed to working with you on an event that adequately protects both attendees and the people of North Carolina.”
Kelly and McDaniel wrote Cooper on Thursday saying they needed further direction and assurances from him to move forward on a convention they said would bring a massive economic boost to the city. While the letter offers several proposed steps to screen and protect convention attendees’ health, it lacked a final safety plan — something Cohen and Cooper said they want, such as one that NASCAR offered before racing last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, albeit with no fans.
The GOP letter sought additional guidelines by next Wednesday, in keeping with Trump’s demand that Cooper make a decision within a week or that he’d be forced to consider moving the convention somewhere else. Florida and Georgia’s governors have said they’re interested in hosting. Cooper suggested to reporters Thursday that the state had no timeline.
Before the letter’s public release Friday, McDaniel said it appeared Cooper was dragging his feet on a decision and attributed it to a “little bit of gamesmanship” and politics. Cooper is seeking reelection this fall in a state Trump won in 2016.
“We are very happy for them to give us guidelines, but ultimately it’s going to come down to the elected officials to tell us how we can conduct our convention, and then we can plan,” McDaniel told WBT radio in Charlotte. “We’re still hoping to make it work, but we’re not going to wait indefinitely.”
Cooper has gradually eased business restrictions, with restaurants now allowed to offer limited indoor dining. But entertainment venues, bars and gyms remain closed. Republicans at the state legislature approved a bill Thursday that would reopen bars for outdoor service, a measure Cooper is likely to veto.
Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, has by far the most COVID-19 cases in the state, with more than 3,800 cases as of Friday morning and roughly 90 deaths.