By Jordan Libowitz
June 19, 2020

Not wanting to accept the Republican nomination for president in front of a masked, socially distanced crowd as mandated by the state of North Carolina, President Trump pulled the flagship event of the Republican National Convention from Charlotte and moved it to Jacksonville, despite coronavirus cases in Jacksonville spiking to an all-time high. We asked the Mayor’s office for any records they had regarding the risks of hosting the RNC during the pandemic and what precautions they were planning to take because of it.

Less than an hour later, we got the following response from Jacksonville:

Greetings.  The City has no responsive records to this request.  Thank you.

One would hope that the city was taking some steps to mitigate the risks of holding an event at a 15,000 seat arena. But, assuming this is true, not only were there no records of precautions, there were also no records of discussing the move with the RNC, the White House or the CDC.

We’ve also requested records from the state of Florida. It could be possible, though odd, that the governor or state Department of Health have made efforts to prevent an outbreak and not shared them yet with the city of Jacksonville. What is more likely is that President Trump wanted to hold a big, made-for-TV event in front of a wall-to-wall crowd of screaming fans as if everything were back to normal. A spaced out, mask wearing crowd would betray any claims he could make about defeating the pandemic and remind the viewer at home of the more than 110,000 Americans who have died from it on his watch. Perhaps a lack of guidelines in Florida is exactly what attracted President Trump in the first place.

A lack of records around responding to the coronavirus pandemic is getting to be a pattern. FEMA told us it could not find any records of criteria it uses to make distributions of PPE to states from the Strategic National Stockpile or records of any communication with the White House about making the distributions.

Trump accepting the nomination in Jacksonville already seems like a massive risk, due to the city and state’s lax reaction to the pandemic. Just this week, it was reported that a Jacksonville woman and 15 of her friends were diagnosed with the coronavirus after eating at a local restaurant (it reportedly reopened Tuesday morning). Dropping thousands of people⁠—including lawmakers⁠—anywhere in the midst of a pandemic is obviously a risk. Dropping this many people into a state that is currently experiencing some of the highest rates of infection to date while apparently not taking precautions simply seems to be seeking out disaster. 

If precautions are not put in place, the lasting impact of this convention could be its death toll.