President Trump heads to Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota on Friday night for a celebration of America’s independence as cases of the novel coronavirus surge across the United States.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R) confirmed this week that social distancing will not be enforced and that the approximately 7,500 attendees will not be required to wear masks at the event, even as the United States on Thursday recorded the largest single-day total of new coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic.
“We will have a large event on July 3. We told those folks that have concerns that they can stay home, but those who want to come and join us, we’ll be giving out free face masks, if they choose to wear one. But we won’t be social distancing,” Noem said Monday in an interview on Fox News. “We’re asking them to come — be ready to celebrate, to enjoy the freedoms and the liberties that we have in this country.”
Trump is set to be met by protests by Native American leaders, who have criticized the president’s use of the memorial, which they say was built on sacred tribal land, as well as the risk the event poses to the environment and to public health.
“The whole Black Hills is sacred. For them to come and carve the presidents, slave owners who have no meaning to us, it was an insult,” Ricky Gray Grass, a member of the Oglala Sioux’s executive council, told The Washington Post earlier this week.
The tribes also warn that Trump’s push for fireworks at the event, which have been banned at the site for more than a decade, could result in wildfires and contaminate the water. And they have voiced serious concern that a massive gathering without any safety restrictions could cause a coronavirus outbreak in their communities.
Trump maintains that the surge of new cases is a result of increased testing capacity and that the virus will soon “disappear.” Trump has faced criticism from lawmakers in both parties for his refusal to wear a mask in public and reluctance to encourage Americans to do so.
“There is a rise in Coronavirus cases because our testing is so massive and so good, far bigger and better than any other country,” Trump tweeted late Thursday night. “This is great news, but even better news is that death, and the death rate, is DOWN. Also, younger people, who get better much easier and faster!”
Before heading to South Dakota, Trump spent Friday morning at his private golf club in Sterling, Va.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease doctor, and other public health officials have repeatedly warned that without social distancing and other precautions like face masks, the coronavirus will spread out of control.
At Trump’s first campaign rally since the nation effectively shut down, held June 20 in Tulsa, Okla., neither social distancing nor face mask use was required. Ahead of the event, several advance staffers tested positive for covid-19, forcing dozens of Secret Service officers and agents to self quarantine due to risk of exposure. This week, Vice President Pence postponed a trip to Arizona by a day after several Secret Service agents tested positive or showed symptoms of the coronavirus.
Ahead of Trump’s visit to the monument, the Mississppi flag was removed from an area of the site where all 50 states’ and U.S. terrorities’ flags fly. The state’s legislature voted earlier this week to remove the Confederate symbol from its flag.
The latest: Live updates in the U.S.
What you need to know: Summertime activities & coronavirus | Your life at home | Personal finance guide | Make your own fabric mask | Follow all of our coronavirus coverage and sign up for our free newsletter.
Have you been hospitalized for covid-19? Tell us whether you’ve gotten a bill.
The most important news stories of the day, curated by Post editors and delivered every morning.