MADISON, Wis. (AP) — President Donald Trump’s testing positive for COVID-19 came on the eve of two planned rallies in battleground Wisconsin, where coronavirus cases are surging and threatening to overwhelm hospitals.
Wisconsin currently ranks third nationwide in new COVID-19 cases per capita and in the past week has broken daily records for new cases and deaths. The state’s chief medical officer said Tuesday that Wisconsin was in “crisis,” and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, along with local officials where Trump planned to rally, had urged him to reconsider hours before he tested positive.
Trump’s campaign had not yet officially canceled the Saturday rallies scheduled for Green Bay and Janesville, but the president said Thursday night that he was quarantining at the White House after testing positive for the virus. Also, the National Business Aviation Association issued advisories Friday morning lifting temporary flight restrictions around airports in the two cities where Trump had planned to campaign.
His rallies typically attract thousands of people, most of whom don’t wear masks despite guidance from state and federal health officials that is an effective way to slow the spread of the virus.
Cases in Wisconsin have surged after the state Supreme Court struck down the governor’s “safer at home” order in May. The state’s health secretary, Andrea Palm, on Tuesday blamed that action as contributing to the state’s rapid spike in cases. The surge has also corresponded with college campuses and K-12 schools re-opening in the fall, although the state’s two two largest districts in Madison and Milwaukee remain virtual only.
Evers and Palm said Republicans’ actions have limited the state’s ability to mitigate outbreaks and led to too many people feeling they could go without wearing masks or avoiding large gatherings. Evers has repeatedly blamed Trump and state GOP leaders who control the Legislature for not taking the virus seriously enough.
“We have to have people that believe that this is not a hoax, that this is a real thing, and that people are dying from this disease,” Evers said Tuesday. “It’s unacceptable that we just blow it off.”
Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan pointed to Trump’s diagnosis Friday in a call for a conservative law firm to drop its lawsuit asking a judge to end the state’s mask mandate. A hearing on that request was scheduled for Monday.
While Wisconsin Democrats wished Trump a fast and full recovery, some also said his diagnosis pointed to the need to take the virus seriously.
“If you weren’t taking this seriously, maybe you will now,” Pocan tweeted. “Wear a mask. Social distance. Avoid large crowds. Ignorance or arrogance or denial can be costly.”
Trump won Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016. As for the political ramifications of his diagnosis in the swing state, Republican strategist Brian Reisinger urged patience.
“Don’t believe any political punditry for the next 24 hours at least,” Reisinger tweeted Friday. “Nobody knows.”