A top Trump administration health official says it is not clear whether it will be safe to hold the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Jacksonville next month as Florida sees record numbers of coronavirus cases.
The comments on Sunday came a month after Republican officials moved the event from North Carolina over a dispute over health precautions.
Stephen Hahn, the Food and Drug Administration commissioner, also refused to confirm President Donald Trump’s claim that 99 percent of coronavirus cases were harmless and called the situation a “serious problem”.
With record numbers of people testing positive for the virus in Jacksonville and across Florida, Hahn was asked if it would be safe to hold the typically large RNC gathering in just seven weeks.
On Saturday, Florida reported a new record of nearly 11,500 new coronavirus cases, amid a surge in cases in western and southern states. To date, nearly 130,000 people have died in the US amid 2.83 million cases.
“I think it’s too early to tell,” Hahn said on CNN’s State of the Union programme. “We will have to see how this unfolds in Florida and elsewhere around the country.”
The Republican Party in June announced it was moving most of the convention activities to Jacksonville from Charlotte after a battle over coronavirus safety concerns with North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat.
The Charlotte Observer reported the governor would not guarantee the event could be held at full capacity in August.
Cooper also said in a letter to Republican National Convention officials that face masks and social distancing would be a necessity at such a gathering.
Trump, in a tweet, said the governor had made it “absolutely impossible for the Republican Party to have its Convention there”.
The Governor of North Carolina, @RoyCooperNC, made it absolutely IMPOSSIBLE for the Republican Party to have its Convention there – and we all love the State. Millions of Dollars, & JOBS, lost by State. VOTE FOR @DanForestNC!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2020
Meanwhile, the city of Jacksonville, led by Republican Mayor Lenny Curry, began requiring masks in public last week after the number of cases continued to rise.
ISO Certificate ‘Totally harmless’
Trump has been known to thrive on large crowds at his campaign rallies and has not embraced masks or social distancing measures at events since the country began reopening from the coronavirus shutdown.
The president has also repeatedly sought to minimise the jump in confirmed cases and claimed without evidence in a July Fourth speech that 99 percent of cases in the United States were “totally harmless”.
Hahn, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, was asked to comment on his boss’ statement.
“So, I’m not going to get into who is right and who is wrong,” he said. “It’s a serious problem that we have. We have seen the surge in cases. We must do something to stem the tide.”