ROCHESTER, Minn. — Rochester Mayor Kim Norton said she was dismayed after crowds gathered outside the Rochester International Airport on Friday, Oct. 30, but said it didn’t violate the city’s agreement with the Republican National Committee and Trump campaign.
“From what I can tell, the RNC and the Trump campaign upheld the agreement, by keeping 250 in the event, spacing appropriately and all of that,” she said of Friday’s rally for President Donald Trump.
City Attorney Jason Loos agreed.
“Comparing the event to other cities, we think the event went well,” he said, adding that the agreement allowed 250 physically distanced people inside the event and 250 people in the parking lot outside the event.
The thousands gathered outside the venue where President Donald Trump was hosting a rally were not part of the agreement.
“The people who gathered on the outside just threw caution to the wind and didn’t really care about our efforts,” Norton said, adding many appeared to be encouraged to attend by other candidates or local party officials.
She said the city’s efforts were intended to contain the spread of the coronavirus, not send a political message, as some people have claimed.
Loos said the crowd was gathered on right-of-way controlled by the city, making it comparable to other rallies this year.
“Much like other rallies that were held on city-controlled property — parks for example — we tried to limit the number of people through messaging,” he said, adding that city staff also blocked vehicle access to the area in an attempt to reduce numbers.
Crowd estimates range from 1,000 to nearly 6,000, with the city landing at up to 2,000.
Norton said the numbers are higher if the people who drove by to get a glimpse of Air Force One or the crowd are added.
She said the crowd didn’t seem to surprise rally planners, who set up a large screen so Trump could be seen from a distance.
“They were anticipating a crowd on the outside and were trying to cater to them, but I don’t think there was anything that said they couldn’t do that,” she said.
Loos said the stated purpose for the screen was to serve people in the parking lot overflow space.
“We worked with the Secret Service and moved it to the location it was so the 250 people in the separate overflow area could see the speech,” he said, saying it wasn’t intended to serve the nonpermitted group.
The city’s agreement provided the defined space to the campaign for 37 hours, ending at 10 p.m. Friday, for $16,000. It also required a $1 million insurance policy.
Loos said he doesn’t anticipate any claims connected to the policy.
“There are no claims that I have heard,” he said. “I have not heard of any damage or injury.”
Pointing to a Stanford University study release, Norton said she expects the city, as well as Olmsted County Public Health, will be watching for potential health outcomes in the upcoming weeks.
“The Stanford study that came out definitely is showing a correlation to where rallies are held and where spikes occur in the next two weeks,” she said. “I’m hoping that our efforts have at least caused those spikes to be less than what they could have been.”
Olmsted County Public Health is recommending that anyone attending the rally or any other large event contact their primary medical provider and seek testing five to seven days after the event.
If possible, health officials say people who may have been exposed to the virus during such an event should to limit their time around others, particularly those at high risk, for 14 days.
At the time of the rally, the county had a reported 267 active COVID-19 cases.
"We have seen our local (and State) COVID-19 numbers continue to increase in the last couple of weeks," Olmsted County Public Health said in a statement Monday.
On Friday, Olmsted County reported 46 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, following two days of more than 40 positive tests, indicating numbers were rising last week.
By Monday, the number of confirmed cases in the county rose by 237, which brought the number of active cases on Monday to 416.
The recent increases put the seven-day daily average for new cases in Olmsted County at nearly 59, which is above the "red zone" limit of 40 established by public health officials.