Minnesota has rules intended to mitigate the spread of coronavirus at large events and gatherings. That includes limiting the number of people that can come together at a single venue to 25 percent capacity, up to 250 people – indoors or outdoors.
You wouldn’t know that watching the September 30 campaign rally President Donald Trump held at the Duluth International Airport, mere days before he was hospitalized with a case of COVID-19. Initial estimates for the number of bodies in the tightly packed crowd ranged in the thousands. Many didn’t even wear masks.
But documents obtained by the Washington Post suggest Trump and his campaign did know that, and kinda sorta did whatever the fuck they wanted anyway.
In the days preceding the rally, local officials had reportedly pressed the campaign to please be cool about this and limit the amount of folks allowed onto the tarmac. In response, according to the Post, the campaign signed a pledge to follow Minnesota’s state guidelines, including limiting attendance to 250 people.
“That’s all the [Duluth Airport Authority] can do,” the airport executive director said in an email dated September 27. “We do not have the resources for enforcement at the event. We will rely on the city’s emergency management and police for strict enforcement.”
An appeal to the state’s Department of Public Safety for backup reportedly did Duluth leadership no good. The city was on its own.
The afternoon of the rally, when this inevitably did not happen, and the crowd started to swell, an airport representative emailed the campaign.
“We have been notified that the 250 person limit has been exceeded,” the email said. “This email serves as our notice of a contract violation and we are requesting you remedy the situation.”
The Trump campaign reportedly did not answer, and the rally went ahead – attended by between 2,500 and 3,000 people, according to estimates by airport officials.
Emails and other documents obtained by the Post through open records requests show that local officials insisted Trump and his campaign follow the rules, but “shied away from enforcing public health orders for fear of provoking backlash.”
“We will not incite an incident by unilaterally taking physical action to close the event," airport executive director Tom Werner wrote in one of those emails. The Duluth Airport Authority told the Post it takes the state health mandates seriously, and that “it was made clear to the Trump campaign” leading up to the event that compliance was expected.
It’s not the only campaign stop where Trump’s team flouted the rules. Earlier that month, the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority told one of its tenants it couldn’t hold a scheduled 5,000-person Trump rally in a hangar. The crowd limit was 50 people. The Trump campaign blamed the decision on “Democrats trying to keep President Trump from speaking to voters” and moved the rally to another airport in Nevada.
And a little over a week ago, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office asked a Northfield venue hosting an Eric Trump speech to send a coronavirus preparedness plan – which owners assured state officials it indeed had – and never received it. Social media photos show a large crowd standing close together with few masks in sight.
“We do not try to stop events,” Ellison told the Star Tribune. “We simply try to make sure they’re held safely.”
So far, public health officials have only traced three coronavirus cases to Trump’s Duluth rally. A previous gathering in Bemidji, however, is linked to 16 confirmed cases, though it’s possible there may be more cases that have gone unreported.
So far, over 2,300 people in Minnesota have died of COVID-19.