WHITE HOUSE - Citing safety concerns, U.S. President Donald Trump has announced he is pulling the plug on next month’s Republican Party convention in Jacksonville, Florida—a coronavirus hot spot.
Due to the flare-up in Florida “it is not the right time” to have a big convention, Trump told reporters in the White House briefing room on Thursday. “I have to protect the American people. That’s what I’ve always done. That’s what I always will do. That’s what I’m about.”
About 330 delegates will still meet in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the formal nomination of Trump as the Republican candidate for president.
Trump said it remains to be determined where he will make his acceptance speech — which had been scheduled for Jacksonville on August 27 — and that the other events will be replaced with “tele-rallies.”
Asked by a reporter what compelled him to totally cancel the Florida event, the president replied: “I would just say safety. Just safety. I could see the media saying, ‘Oh, this is very unsafe.’”
Trump said thousands of his supporters wanted to attend and were in the process of making travel arrangements.
About 10,000 people had been expected, which would have been a small fraction of the attendance at such a major political event in a normal year.
Planning for the event in Florida had been hampered by anemic fund-raising from prospective sponsors. Many potential attendees were worried about health risks, and local officials expressed concern to Trump’s campaign about the difficulty of providing enough resources and personnel to safely host the event.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams posted a joint statement shortly after the president’s remarks.
“We appreciate President Donald Trump considering our public health and safety concerns in making this incredibly difficult decision,” Curry and Williams said in a joint statement after the White House announcement. “As always, in Jacksonville, public safety is our number one priority. President Trump has once again reaffirmed his commitment to the safety of Jacksonville, Florida, and the people of the United States of America.”
Florida on Thursday announced 173 additional COVID-19 fatalities, the most of any day throughout the coronavirus pandemic. More than 5,600 people have died in the state from COVID-19 and nearly 400,000 have been infected.
Across the United States, 4 million people have tested positive for the coronavirus and 144,000 have died — the most reported by any country.
The surprise announcement of the convention’s cancellation came at the start of the president’s coronavirus briefing, a gathering before the press he revived this week after a hiatus.
As has been the case this week, Trump did not share the podium with any members of the White House coronavirus task force, although Dr. Deborah Birx was seated on the side of the briefing room.
The president again blamed the outbreak of the virus on China, where the first cases were reported in late December of last year.
“It’s a different world and it will be for a little while,” acknowledged Trump, who has been criticized for playing down for months the seriousness of the virus.
Trump emphasized that despite the concerns of educators and parents across the country, it is important for students to return to classroom education as soon as feasible.
“Schools have to open safely. They have to open," said the president, who noted that children are significantly less prone to get sick or die from COVID-19 than adults.
Most schools in the United States begin the academic year in late August or early September. Many are already delaying that timetable and choosing to hold some or all classes online amid the pandemic.
School districts located in coronavirus hot spots “may need to delay reopening for a few weeks. That’s possible. That’ll be up to governors,” said the president.