Trump’s indoor rally is likely to be a much bigger coronavirus hotspot than any outdoor protest

Left: A Black Lives Matter protest in New York on June 15, 2020. Right: A Keep America Great rally on February 20, 2020, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Getty Images
  • President Trump is hosting a rally this weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at an indoor arena with space for more than 19,000 people.
  • Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter protests continue outdoors in cities around the globe.
  • Both rallies and protests involve large crowds, standing close together, which means people could presumably catch the coronavirus at either type of event.
  • But scientific evidence suggests that gathering indoors, without masks, as Trump’s campaign plans to do this weekend, is a much more dangerous place for the coronavirus to spread than outside at a protest.
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Thousands of protesters have been raising their voices across the country for three weeks, chanting “Black Lives Matter.”

On Saturday, thousands more are planning to rally and chant for President Trump’s reelection in 2020 at the BOK Centre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, an indoor arena with space for more than 19,000 people inside.

But the coronavirus will likely not treat these two groups equally.

Protesters have been doing their demonstrating outdoors, while Trump’s rally-goers will gather inside, chanting and breathing in the same stale air.

That indoor arena is a vitally different – and more dangerous – space to occupy during the coronavirus pandemic, because we’ve seen time and time again how this virus thrives in enclosed spaces, where people come in close contact with one another for hours at a time.

It’s the same reason why sharing a drink outside on the footpath (while maintaining a good distance from your friends) is not nearly as dangerous as tucking into a pub, laughing and commiserating with pals for the first time in months, as one Florida health care worker recently did, before contracting the coronavirus, along with 15 of her friends.

Evidence suggests being indoors (especially with maskless strangers) is a much more dangerous activity than outdoor protests

Trump rally
U.S. President Donald Trump pats his bicep and pumps his fist at the end of his rally with supporters in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S. August 15, 2019 REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Here’s what we’ve learned so far about how well this virus spreads indoors:

  • A study from China (which is still under review) found that among 318 coronavirus outbreaks in that country,only one occured outside. The other 317 happened indoors.
  • Another examination of COVID-19 cases in Japan (also under review) found that the odds of COVID-19 transmission in a closed, indoor environment were nearly 19 times higher than out in fresh air.
  • And a new report from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which studied coronavirus cases across Japan from January to April, found that many of that country’s coronavirus clusters tended to sprout up when people did heavy breathing in close proximity, including “singing at karaoke parties, cheering at clubs, having conversations in bars, and exercising in gymnasiums.” It’s not a stretch to imagine a political rally falling into that same category of shouty, spitty group activity.

All of the above studies underline how much fresh air helps dissipate and dilute the virus, so that you’re far less likely to get it. Some sunlight helps too.

Domino Park

There are plenty of specific, recent examples that reveal just how easy it is for this virus to transmit inside closed spaces where crowds gather, including:

Getting outside is not the only way to mitigate your coronavirus-catching risk, masks and distance help too

Good ventilation, which can include opening up windows and doors, spacing people out, and putting on masks to prevent the spread of the virus from person to person can help a lot.

Beauty salon hair stylist coronavirus A cosmetologist styles a customers hair at Parlour Salon as beauty salons, barber shops and spas begin to reopen in the wake of the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Cincinnati, Ohio, United States. (Photo by Jason Whitman/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A cosmetologist styles a customer’s hair at Parlour Salon, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Jason Whitman/Getty Images

In one Missouri Great Clips hair salon where two stylists were infected with the coronavirus in May, not a single one of their 140 clients has reported coming down sick in the weeks since. All the stylists and their clients wore masks, spaced their salon chairs far apart, and staggered appointments to keep the number of people interacting in the space lower than before.

None of these measures are completely perfect viral defences, of course. You can still get the coronavirus outside, and you can get it anytime you gather with others, even if people are wearing masks.

“Every activity that involves interacting with others has some degree of risk right now,” Jay Butler, the CDC’s deputy director of infectious diseases, said on a call with reporters on Friday.

“The more closely you interact with others, the longer the interaction lasts, and the greater the number of people involved in the interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.”

Data Ticker – Covid 19 Global and US

Mounting evidence continues to tell us that staying a good distance from other people, washing hands frequently (especially before touching food, or your face), and avoiding large crowds are all simple measures that can really make a vital difference to keep more people virus-free, as we reemerge into public life.

Aside from a little extra hand sanitizer on scene at the BOK Centre, it doesn’t seem like the Trump campaign’s Tulsa event is considering adding any of those extra precautions. Masks will be optional.

Trump said that more of his political rallies – which have been on hiatus since late February amid the country’s coronavirus lockdowns – are now in the works, with future stops planned for Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina, all places where coronavirus cases have been on a worrisome uptick in recent days.

Business Insider reached out to the Trump campaign twice via email, asking if the team had considered hosting its Tulsa rally outdoors this weekend, but the campaign did not respond.