President Donald Trump canceled a planned appearance in western Wisconsin amid calls from the city's mayor and the state's governor, both Democrats, that he not hold a rally due to a surge in coronavirus cases.
The director of the La Crosse airport said the event was canceled due to a lease issue, not concerns over the coronavirus.
Wisconsin ranks third among states for per-capita increases in cases over the past two weeks. State health officials reported 2,887 newly confirmed cases on Thursday, a new daily record, along with 21 more deaths. The state has now seen 125,161 cases and 1,348 deaths since the pandemic began.
Trump replaced the La Crosse rally with one in Janesville about 175 miles away where the virus is not spreading quite as rapidly. He's also holding a rally Saturday in Green Bay. Both will be outside at airports.
Both La Crosse and Green Bay have been identified as a “red zone” for community spread of COVID-19 by the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Janesville is not on the list.
The coronavirus task force report urged social distancing in “red zones” to the “maximum degree possible.” Trump rallies typically draw many thousands of people, who crowd closely together, shouting and cheering -- the vast majority without masks.
A political rally violated the terms of the La Crosse airport's lease with Colgan Air Service, which planned to host the rally, airport director Ian Turner said.
“The tenant was notified of this, disagreed with the City of La Crosse’ position, but opted not to host the event,” Turner said in a statement. Kelly Colgan Hammen, president of the private air service where the rally was to be held, did not immediately return a message.
“The tenant was notified of this, disagreed with the City of La Crosse’ position, but opted not to host the event,” Turner said in a statement. He did not identify who the tenant was.
Trump made a similar move last month, changing his plans for large airport rallies in Nevada after local officials warned they would violate the state’s ban on gatherings of more than 50 people. There is no statewide limit on gatherings in Wisconsin after Republicans successfully challenged the Democratic governor’s “safer at home” order this spring.
State and local health officials in Wisconsin urged attendees to follow local guidelines but stopped short of asking Trump not to come.
A collaborative of health care organizations in La Crosse, including Gundersen Health System, Mayo Clinic Health System and La Crosse County, recommends that people avoid anyplace where people aren’t wearing masks or physical distancing. They also recommend limiting outdoor gatherings to no more than 100 people.
“Masks and physical distancing should be required,” according to guidance released Wednesday by the health collaborative. “Venues should consider cancelling or rescheduling any large gatherings planned for the next 14 days.”
As of Thursday, La Crosse County had reported 3,205 cases and three deaths. The state listed the activity level of COVID-19 as “very high.”
Brown County, where Green Bay is located, has had 9,796 cases and 66 deaths. The number of positive cases over the past two weeks was up 24%, according to the state Department of Health Services.
In Rock County, where Janesville is located, virus activity is listed as “high," one level lower than Brown and La Crosse counties.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said he hoped Trump would cancel his visit to the state. If Trump holds a rally in Wisconsin he should insist his supporters wear masks and not let them in if they refuse, the governor said.
“He can control this,” Evers said.
Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Andrew Hitt defended the president coming to Wisconsin, saying his supporters get energized by his in-person appearances.
“We’re going to take precautions,” Hitt said. “We’re going to make sure we have masks, we’re going to encourage people to wear masks. ... We need to make sure we’re open and tell people, ‘Look if you think you’ve been exposed please do not come.’”