GOP Scales Back Florida Convention as Covid Crisis Worsens

The host state reported 13,837 new coronavirus cases Thursday and 156 deaths, bringing its overall toll to 4,677.

Shadows of delegates are seen on the floor of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. (AP Photo/John Locher)

(CN) — The Republican National Committee announced Thursday dramatically scaled down plans for its four-day convention next month in the new host city of Jacksonville, as Florida continues to reel from a surge in coronavirus cases.

In a letter released to delegates on Thursday, RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel said attendance for the first three nights of the convention would be restricted to regular delegates and no alternates or guests are allowed until the last night on Aug. 27, when President Donald Trump accepts the GOP nomination.

Last month, Trump pushed for the convention to leave its original host city of Charlotte, North Carolina, after Democratic Governor Roy Cooper signaled the state would require face masks and limit capacity at the Spectrum Center. In response, RNC officials decided to move the pageantry of the convention to Jacksonville, located in conservative northeast Florida and governed by a Republican mayor.

“When we made these changes, we had hoped to be able to plan a traditional convention celebration to which we are all accustomed,” McDaniel said in the letter, first obtained by the Washington Post. “However, adjustments must be made to comply with state and local health guidelines.”

Florida has quickly become the nation’s epicenter of coronavirus infections, topping more than 315,775 total cases and setting a new record of deaths on Thursday, according to numbers released by state health officials.

The state Department of Health’s latest update reported 13,837 residents tested positive for the coronavirus since Wednesday morning and 156 died. Florida’s death toll now stands at 4,677. Non-resident deaths have not yet been reported.

Hospitalizations in Florida also rose considerably with 491 new patients as hospital capacity rapidly diminishes in the state’s metro areas. More than 9,000 people in the Sunshine State are receiving treatment for Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Over the last three weeks, cities in every part of the state began mandating face masks, some as early as June 21, as local officials scrambled to contain the cases rising by thousands every day.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry passed a face mask mandate on June 29 for all indoor establishments, a week after speaking strongly against the measure. A spokesman for Curry also declined to postpone the Republican convention at that time.

But the recent deluge in coronavirus cases – about a third of the state’s total cases have come in the last 10 days – forced the RNC organizers to rethink how they will hold the event.

In addition to the number of attendees, the RNC chair also indicated organizers will provide temperature checks and virus testing, but the letter did not elaborate if they would be required.

Daily agendas in the sprawling metropolitan area will include a mix of indoor and outdoor events, the letter said. Organizers hinted Trump’s acceptance speech may take place outdoors near the Jacksonville Jaguar’s football stadium, TIAA Bank Field, or an adjoining 5,500-seat amphitheater.

August temperatures in Jacksonville regularly top 90 degrees during the day and only regress five or 10 degrees during the evening, with matching humidity topping 80%.

“I want to make clear that we still intend to host a fantastic convention celebration in Jacksonville,” McDaniel wrote in the letter to delegates. “We can gather and put on a top-notch event that celebrates the incredible accomplishments of President Trump’s administration and his re-nomination for a second term — while also doing so in a safe and responsible manner.”

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