Republicans insist Trump Tulsa rally will not unfold coronavirus – regardless of native concern

Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Republican lawmakers are downplaying concerns that a Donald Trump indoor rally planned for Tulsa, Oklahoma, for next weekend could contribute to the spread Covid-19, amid an increase in cases in the city.

Related: Pandemic, what pandemic? Trump sees mass rallies as path to re-election

The Tulsa city-county health department director, Bruce Dart, said he worried the rally could be dangerous for attendees as well as the president.

“I wish we could postpone this to a time when the virus isn’t as large a concern as it is today,” Dart told Tulsa World.

“I think it’s an honor for Tulsa to have a sitting president want to come and visit our community, but not during a pandemic. I’m concerned about our ability to protect anyone who attends a large, indoor event, and I’m also concerned about our ability to ensure the president stays safe as well.”

Trump is set to travel to Oklahoma next Saturday, to stage his first rally since early March.

The event was moved from Friday to avoid a clash with Juneteenth, the day on which African Americans celebrate the end of slavery. The president had faced criticism for planning a rally on such a day in Tulsa, the scene in 1921 of the worst race massacre in US history.

James Lankford, a Republican senator from Oklahoma, said on Sunday the rally did not need to be postponed because the increase in coronavirus cases is “a little bit of a bump”.

In fact it is too early to say if the increase is small and temporary.

“Our deaths continue to decline and we encourage people that are high risk not to get involved in any location, whether that be a rally or other higher-risk locations,” Lankford told ABC’s This Week.

“So, high-risk folks need to be able to step back and everybody needs to be able to take responsibility for their own health.”

The White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said attendees at the rally “must observe the safety guidelines”.

“The social distancing must be observed,” Kudlow told CNN’s State of the Union. “Face coverings in key places must be observed.”

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Trump has refused to wear a mask at a series of recent public events.

The Trump campaign is asking supporters to sign a waiver that makes clear the campaign is not responsible if anyone gets ill from crowding with thousands of others in an enclosed space.

There was a new high in daily increases for Oklahoma and Tulsa county on Saturday, while the rolling average of daily increases continues to rise. About the same number of people are being tested.

On Friday the Tulsa health department said the outbreak was linked to indoor gatherings. Hospitalizations and the percentage of tests coming back positive have been steady in the state.

Saturday also saw an increase in cases in Alabama, Florida and South Carolina, which reported a record number of new cases for the third day in a row, while Alaska did so for the first time in weeks. Arizona and Nevada reported a near-record number of new cases. Many state health officials partly attributed the increases to gatherings over the Memorial Day holiday weekend in late May.

On Friday, the White House coronavirus taskforce member Dr Anthony Fauci told CNN the US would not necessarily see a second wave of Covid-19 infections, “if you approach it in the proper way”.

That, he said, meant people should maintain social distancing and continue to wear masks in public.

Related: Fauci says US might not see ‘second wave’ of Covid-19 cases

Nationally, there were more than 25,000 new cases reported on Saturday, the highest tally for a Saturday since 2 May, in part due to a significant increase in testing. In Louisiana, one of the earlier virus hotspots, new cases were again on the rise with more than 1,200 – the most in the state since 21 May.

The hospitalizations metric is not affected by increased testing. Arkansas, North Carolina, Texas and Utah all had a record number of patients enter hospital on Saturday. In South Carolina, 69% to 77% of hospital beds are occupied, depending on the region.

“When you start to see increases in hospitalization,” Fauci said on Friday, “that’s a surefire situation that you’ve got to pay close attention to.”

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