One week before President Donald Trump is scheduled to host a campaign rally at Tulsa's BOK Center, local and national health experts are warning that large indoor gatherings have the potential to further worsen the still-growing COVID-19 pandemic.
"Today the Tulsa Health Department (THD) reported its new highest daily increase of COVID-19 cases to date," THD said in a Friday statement. "Seventy-one Tulsa County residents were reported as confirmed cases today, bringing the total confirmed to 1,443 individuals. 1,008 of those residents have recovered, 373 are currently active, and 62 Tulsa County residents have died. Data analysts with the department reported meaningful increases in case trends early this week."
"Initial investigations on cases reported this week have identified an outbreak linked to indoor gatherings, which large groups of people congregated in close contact for prolonged periods of time. Investigations continue to determine how many of the new cases are associated with this outbreak," the statement continued.
"I have concerns about large groups of people gathering indoors for prolonged lengths of time. It is imperative that anyone who chooses to host or attend a gathering take the steps to stay safe. If you are sick or think you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, stay home,” said Dr. Bruce Dart, who heads the department. “The bottom line is that the more people an infected individual interacts with and the longer that interaction lasts, the greater the risk for spreading COVID-19 becomes.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci of the federal National Institutes of Health, the nation's leading expert on infectious disease, called a resumption of campaign rallies "a danger" and "risky" in a Friday conversation with ABC News' Jonathan Karl.
"If you're going to be in a situation where -- beyond your control there's a lot of people around you -- make sure you wear a mask," Fauci said.
Trump has repeatedly declined to wear a mask in public during the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 117,000 Americans. Last month, Trump retweeted a message from a conservative writer that "Masks aren't about public health but social control." Also in May, Trump told a Reuters reporter to remove his mask before asking a question, dismissing mask-wearing -- a recommendation of his own government -- as an attempt to be "politically correct."
The president has also said previously that when campaign events resume, he doesn't want to see attendees following social distancing guidelines.
"I can't imagine a rally where you have every fourth seat full, every six seats are empty for every one that you have full, that wouldn't look too good," Trump told reporters in April. "No, I hope that we're going to be able to do some good old fashioned 25,000-person rallies where everyone's going wild because they love our country."
The Trump campaign is requiring attendees to his rally at the BOK Center -- which seats more than 19,000 -- to waive the ability to sue if they contract the disease at the rally.
"By clicking register below, you are acknowledging that an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present," reads the campaign's RSVP page. "By attending the Rally, you and any guests voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19 and agree not to hold Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.; BOK Center; ASM Global; or any of their affiliates, directors, officers, employees, agents, contractors, or volunteers liable for any illness or injury."
(Reuters has reported that legal experts do not believe that disclaimer would hold up in court.)
Oklahoma is in the midst of a major upswing in confirmed COVID-19 infections. Last week, the state broke the record for most new cases in a single day -- and then broke that new record the following day. According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, the virus is now known to have infected 8,073 people statewide as of Saturday. 359 Oklahomans are known to have died of the novel coronavirus.