LA CROSSE, Wis. - President Donald Trump canceled a planned appearance in western Wisconsin amid calls from the city's mayor and the state's governor, both Democrats, that he not hold a rally amid a surge in coronavirus cases.
A statement from President Trump's campaign said the president will instead travel to Janesville Saturday, Oct. 3 -- and Green Bay as originally planned.
The Janesville Make America Great Again event will take place Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Janesville Regional Airport.
The Green Bay event will take place at Austin Straubel International Airport at 6 p.m.
“We have received word that Air Force One is not coming to La Crosse on Saturday, so we are assuming the Trump campaign has changed its plan and is not coming to La Crosse,” Caley Cavadini, spokeswoman for La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat, said Thursday. Kabat had called for Trump to cancel the rally.
The director of the La Crosse airport said the event was canceled due to a legal issue, not concerns over the coronavirus.
A political rally violated the terms of a lease with a tenant who planned to host the rally on airport property, airport director Ian Turner said.
“The tenant was notified of this, disagreed with the City of La Crosse’ position, but opted not to host the event,” Turner said in a statement. He did not identify who the tenant was.
Trump made a similar move last month, changing his plans for large airport rallies in Nevada after local officials warned they would violate the state’s ban on gatherings of more than 50 people. There is no statewide limit on gatherings in Wisconsin after Republicans successfully challenged the Democratic governor’s “safer at home” order this spring.
Trump had scheduled two rallies in battleground Wisconsin on Saturday, one in La Crosse and another in Green Bay. Both were scheduled to be held outside at the city's airports. Both areas have been identified as a “red zone” for community spread of COVID-19 by the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
The coronavirus task force report urged social distancing in “red zones” like La Crosse and Brown counties to the “maximum degree possible.” The rallies typically draw many thousands of people, who crowd closely together, shouting and cheering -- the vast majority without masks.
Statewide, Wisconsin is ranked third for per-capita increases in cases over the past two weeks.
Local health officials urged attendees to follow local guidelines but stopped short of asking Trump not to come.
A collaborative of health care organizations in La Crosse, including Gundersen Health System, Mayo Clinic Health System and La Crosse County, recommends that people avoid anyplace where people aren’t wearing masks or physical distancing. They also recommend limiting outdoor gatherings to no more than 100 people.
“Masks and physical distancing should be required,” according to guidance released Wednesday by the health collaborative. “Venues should consider cancelling or rescheduling any large gatherings planned for the next 14 days.”
As of Wednesday, La Crosse County had reported 3,130 cases and three deaths. The state listed the activity level of COVID-19 as “very high.”
Brown County, where Green Bay is located, has had 9,536 cases and 65 deaths. The number of positive cases over the past two weeks was up 24%, according to the state Department of Health Services.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said he hoped Trump would also cancel the Green Bay stop. If Trump holds a rally in Wisconsin he should insist his supporters wear masks and not let them in if they refuse, the governor said.
“He can control this,” Evers said.
Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Andrew Hitt defended the president coming to Wisconsin, saying his supporters get energized by his in-person appearances.
“We’re going to take precautions,” Hitt said. “We’re going to make sure we have masks, we’re going to encourage people to wear masks. ... We need to make sure we’re open and tell people, ‘Look if you think you’ve been exposed please do not come.’”
In response to Donald Trump's upcoming visit to Wisconsin, Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Ben Wikler released the following statement:
“As COVID-19 spreads like wildfire through Wisconsin, Donald Trump is holding events with no social distancing, no mask wearing, and seemingly no precautions taken at all to keep the communities he is visiting safe. Local health care professionals and elected officials and have implored Trump to do what is in the best interest of the health of their communities by postponing his events, but the President is continuing to put Wisconsinites at risk as he ignores common sense safety measures. Instead of holding super spreader events that endanger countless Wisconsinites, Trump should come deliver supplies to our hospitals and frontline workers desperately in need.”
Wisconsin physicians urge president to cancel
Wisconsin physicians Thursday in a news release urged President Trump to cancel his visit to the state and scrub the two Saturday rallies "as the state experiences the worst surge of COVID-19 cases since the deadly pandemic began in February."
The release noted the physicians’ appeal comes as "Trump’s own COVID-19 task force advises maximum social distancing in Wisconsin," and Bellin Health System in Green Bay, scheduled to host one rally, "reported its capacity stood at 94%."
“President Trump has a responsibility to keep Wisconsin families and Americans safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, and holding mass rallies that attract thousands of people while COVID-19 cases go through the roof will put people’s health at risk,” said Dr. Bob Freedland, MD, and ophthalmologist in La Crosse, and state lead for the Committee to Protect Medicare, in the release. “As physicians, we have been urging all Wisconsinites since Day One of the pandemic to exercise safety behaviors such as wearing masks and avoiding crowds. From everything we have seen of President Trump’s campaign rallies, where thousands of people stand shoulder to shoulder with the overwhelming majority of them not wearing masks, these events have the potential to become superspreader infection events that Wisconsin doesn’t need right now.”
The release noted that La Crosse and Green Bay "are seeing massive increases in COVID-19 infections" -- in the Top 10 areas nationally experiencing the worst COVID-19 outbreaks this week.
Statewide, COVID-19 has infected more than 126,000 people and killed more than 1,300, the release noted, with data indicated that La Crosse and Brown counties, the counties face imminent COVID-19 outbreaks.
“Green Bay and La Crosse are among the hardest hit COVID-19 hotspots not just in Wisconsin, but the nation, and holding rallies in these communities right now would be reckless and irresponsible,” said Dr. Ann Helms, MD, MS, a neurologist in Brookfield, in the release. “As we saw in his debate with former Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday night, President Trump will likely use every opportunity between now and Election Day to spread medically inaccurate information that will endanger people’s health and safety. Wisconsin needs more tests, more masks and more national leadership, not political stunts that spread misinformation and infections.”