JANESVILLE – Thousands of Donald Trump’s followers, lots of them with out masks, filtered onto an airport tarmac Saturday afternoon as they awaited a go to from the president amid hovering coronavirus instances throughout Wisconsin.
“This entire pandemic is a hoax,” said Brandon Rice of Eau Claire as he waited in line at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport in Janesville. “I think it was done to make him look bad. It’s fake news.”
Some attendees at Trump’s Saturday evening rally wore masks, some didn’t and some left them dangling at their chins, leaving their mouths and noses exposed.
Those at the airport were given temperature checks and provided masks if they didn’t have them. Signs at the gate asked people to wear masks.
“I refuse to wear a mask,” Rice said. When asked why, he said, “Because I’m not a sheep and I’m not scared. It’s their way to get control over us.”
“Everyone has passed a temperature check so I don’t see a problem,” he added.
The event is the kind of gathering state public health officials are warning against as Wisconsin grapples with overwhelmed hospitals — bringing thousands of people together in one spot without requiring face masks or distance between each other.
But the rally is not off-limits under state’s emergency orders and Trump is a little more than two weeks away from the day he needs Wisconsin voters to return the state to his column as he lags Democratic opponent Joe Biden in state polling.
Those in attendance were confident Trump would defy polls on Nov. 3, just as he did in 2016, when he narrowly won Wisconsin.
“I think Trump is going to win because God has a hand in this and God is not going to let us go socialist,” said Connie Chaney of Sterling, Ill.
Like Rice, she chose not to wear a face covering, saying “I’m not a mask person.”
“I think it’s not anything more than the flu,” Chaney said of COVID-19. “I am not afraid and I’m not stopping living my life because of this.”
The event is being held a day after Wisconsin posted a record for the most coronavirus cases in a day — 3,861. The number of people hospitalized because of COVID-19 has tripled in Wisconsin in the last month and nearly 1,600 people in the state have died from it.
Ahead of the visit, Biden accused Trump of “knowingly downplaying the severity” of the pandemic.
“Wisconsin is in the grips of one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the country,” Biden said in a statement. “Jill and I are praying for the health of those who’ve contracted the virus, and for the families who are mourning the loss of a loved one. We have lost far too many lives to this pandemic — and the sad fact is, it didn’t have to be this way.”
Those gathering for the 6 p.m. event were required to park miles away and take school buses to the airport — another health risk during a pandemic because of the tight quarters.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, who recently came out of quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19, said he generally doesn’t wear a mask when he is outdoors. He said the stiff wind would help prevent infections.
“I don’t think this is particularly dangerous at all,” the Republican from Oshkosh told reporters as people streamed into the event and the Village People’s “YMCA” blared over the speakers.
Rock County Administrator Josh Smith, who oversees the airport, said the county requires anyone in Rock County facilities to wear masks.
“That being said, the event is taking place in a privately leased hangar, which provides rights to the owner to hold events,” Smith said by email. “We expect both local and statewide requirements to be followed, and are confident that the campaign is aware of those requirements.”
Smith said Rock County officials have conveyed “concerns about mass gatherings and the need to comply with public health guidance.”
“We will have to put our confidence in the decisions that individuals make to keep themselves and others safe,” he said in his email.
Ahead of the event, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers was less optimistic that it would feature compliance with guidance to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
He said on Thursday in a media briefing that Trump is “encouraging a super-spreader event.”
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Evers said Trump could require attendees to wear masks or be turned away.
“They are unwilling to do that,” he said of the campaign.
Brian Belt of Pewaukee noted the windy conditions Saturday, saying that would limit the chances of people getting infected at the outdoor event. He didn’t wear a mask as he waited to get in.
“I have one with me if I feel the need to put one on,” he said.
Asked what he likes about Trump, Belt said, “That’s a tough question? Do you have all day?”
He said Trump had done a great job on the economy before COVID-19 hit the country, had responded to the virus well, had helped soothe tensions in the Middle East and made life better for the middle class.
“He’s for the people,” Belt said.
As the crowd gathered in Janesville, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren charged into Madison and delivered a scorching denunciation of Trump as she sought to energize Democrats to go the polls for Biden.
From the economy to racial justice to the coronavirus pandemic, the Massachusetts senator and one-time presidential candidate lit into Trump and his policies during an afternoon drive-in car rally.
“We are eight months in (to the pandemic) and the Trump administration still has no plan to deal with this crisis. People continue to die, hundreds a day. On Nov. 3rd we will hold Donald Trump accountable,” said Warren as attendees blared horns.
Warren, who wore a mask during her speech, is to headline a Milwaukee rally later Saturday.
Trump’s visit comes after the president canceled one scheduled at the same spot on Oct. 3 as part of a doubleheader event with a second rally in Green Bay. The rallies were called off after Trump reported he had tested positive for COVID-19.
Following the diagnosis, Trump’s doctor made conflicting statements about when the president tested positive, raising questions about when Trump’s campaign finalized the two rallies in Wisconsin.
Sean Conley, White House physician, told reporters at a news conference on Oct. 3 outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Trump was “72 hours into the diagnosis now,” which might imply the constructive consequence was identified earlier than Trump’s marketing campaign finalized plans for the occasions.
But the timeline nonetheless stays unclear after an nameless White House official contradicted Conley’s assertion, saying Conley meant to say it’s Day 3, not 72 hours in — suggesting the analysis was made after the Wisconsin plans had been made. Conley later issued his personal clarification.
The rallies had been finalized despite knowledge by the White House that Trump’s close aide Hope Hicks had tested positive.
Hours earlier than Trump’s announcement, he confronted pushback from metropolis and county officers in three areas of Wisconsin the place his marketing campaign was urgent ahead on rallies despite surging coronavirus cases in the state — prompting the La Crosse mayor to ask Trump to cancel a deliberate rally there