WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump held his first campaign rally since March in Tulsa on Saturday after days of speculation about the impact the event would have on spreading the coronavirus and how large the crowd would be.
The president used the opportunity to brag about his coronavirus response while downplaying its threat, slamming the media and some of his Democratic rivals, and defending confederate statues.
Here are some of the takeaways from Trump’s rally:
‘Slow the testing down’
Trump boasted of his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and again blamed China for spreading the virus.
Coronavirus cases have spiked in several states around the country, including in Oklahoma, the site of the rally. Local health officials had called for the rally to be postponed out of concern about the spread of the virus.
“COVID. To be specific, COVID-19. That name gets further and further away from China, as opposed to calling it the Chinese virus,” he said.
Trump said he told his administration “slow the testing down, please,” reiterating his argument that higher test numbers led to higher case counts.
In fact, in many states seeing spikes in cases, the increase in infections is outpacing the number of new tests. As the country reopens, medical experts say one of the keys to curbing the spread of COVID-19 is widespread testing so people who have the disease can self-quarantine to avoid infecting others at workplaces, schools and other public places. At the White House, for example, aides are tested daily.
The president also suggested, without evidence, that COVID-19 is being over-reported. Experts, including members of Trump’s own coronavirus task force, have said they believe COVID-19 cases are being under-reported.
Smaller crowd, few masks in use
Trump’s rally boasted a smaller crowd than his usual campaign events, with much of the upper sections of the 19,000-seat BOK Center empty.
An event outside was canceled and broken down by the Secret Service before the president started speaking inside because of low attendance.
Before the event, the Trump campaign had boasted 1 million tickets were requested, and Trump predicted there would not be an empty seat.
Trump’s campaign blamed the low turnout, as well as the scratched event, on “radical protesters” as well as members of the media, who they claimed “attempted to frighten off the President’s supporters.”
Journalists on the ground have disputed claims that large numbers of people were turned away because of rowdy protesters.
Trump, who often kicks off his campaign rallies by crowing about the size of the crowd, was forced to use his high-stakes rally to explain why turnout was less than expected.
Echoing a line from his campaign manager, Trump blamed the smaller-than-expected crowds on media coverage leading up to the event and blamed protesters for his decision not to deliver expected remarks at the scheduled outdoor overflow event.
“You are warriors,” Trump told the crowd, suggesting that they had turned out despite the coverage leading up to the rally. “I’ve been watching the fake news for weeks now. And everything is negative. Today it was like, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Additionally, the majority of attendees did not wear masks despite the campaign handing them out. But wearing masks was not enforced. Several lawmakers at the rally did not wear masks.
‘I did a phenomenal job’
Trump shrugged off the looming threat from the coronavirus, despite several states reporting record-high numbers of cases and hospitalizations in the past few days, including Oklahoma.
Local health officials had called for the rally to be postponed out of concern about the spread of the virus.
He continued to boast of his administration’s response to the pandemic.
“We – I – did a phenomenal job with it,” Trump declared.
Trump said he told his administration “Slow the testing down, please,” reiterating his argument that higher test numbers led to higher case counts.
He imitated a doctor talking about a 10-year-old with “sniffles” who would conclude “that’s a case!”
The president said the governor of New Jersey told him only one person younger than 18 died, which the president said shows young people have a “great immune system”
“Let’s open the schools, please!” he said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a member of the president’s coronavirus task force, said last week while more testing does result in more confirmed cases, the surge in some states “cannot be explained by increased testing.”
The president at one point also called COVID-19 the “kung flu” and the “Chinese virus.”
“It’s a disease without question,” Trump told the audience. “I can name 19 different versions of names. Many call it a virus, which it is. Many call it a flu. What’s the difference?”
Public health officials have discouraged terms that associate a pandemic with a place. Trump frequently used “Chinese virus” in the early weeks of the pandemic but stopped using it as frequently.
One of his own advisers, Kellyanne Conway, in March called reports of a White House official referring to the coronavirus as the “kung flu” as “highly offensive.”
COVID-19 deaths neared 120,000 Saturday in the U.S.