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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Gaston County Health Dept: Two Trump Rally Attendees Test Positive For COVID-19

More than 20,000 people were packed into a crowd gathered to watch Donald Trump at a rally in Gastonia.
Michael Falero
More than 20,000 people were packed into a crowd gathered to watch Donald Trump at a rally in Gastonia.

The Gaston County Health Department said Thursday that two people who attended last week’s Donald Trump rally in Gastonia have tested positive for COVID-19. The department said in a release that it’s following contact tracing protocols and is notifying the public “because of the large number of potential contacts from the rally.”

Health officials said in the release that the cases are currently “not thought to be an indication of spread from the rally,” but rather two independent cases.

An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people attended the rally at the Gastonia Municipal Airport on Oct. 21. Many did not wear masks or practice social distancing. Trump also held a rally at the Robeson County Fairgrounds in Lumberton on Saturday.

The Gaston County Health Department said anyone who was in attendance at the Gastonia rally should monitor themselves for symptoms and seek testing if needed.

Trump was scheduled to hold a rally in Fayetteville on Thursday night alongside First Lady Melania Trump. The campaign announced Thursday afternoon it would be postponed until Monday “because of a wind advisory issued with gusts reaching 50 miles per hour and other weather conditions.”

Vice President Mike Pence held a rally in Greensboro on Tuesday. Tiffany Trump spoke in Charlotte on Tuesday, followed by Ivanka Trump the next day. Eric and Donald Trump, Jr. have also frequented the state this month with campaign appearances.

The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to an Associated Press request for comment on the two positive COVID-19 diagnoses. Event volunteers have increasingly handed out face masks, though it has not mandated rallygoers wear them.

North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper earlier this year required people to wear masks and has required people to maintain physical separation from one another at mass gatherings. The governor who is seeking reelection and has been reluctant to criticize Trump by name carved out a First Amendment exemption in an executive order that allows for “activities constituting the exercise of First Amendment rights.”

Trump has utilized the exception to hold large rallies, and Cooper has struggled to get local police departments to comply with his public health directives.

Cooper and Mandy Cohen, secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services, did not say during a Wednesday news conference whether any positive coronavirus cases have emerged as a result of Trump’s rallies.

Cohen's office told The Associated Press in mid-October it could not link any coronavirus cases to Trump rallies.

The state has struggled to get infected residents to respond to calls to contact tracers. Even when people do respond and answer all questions, Cooper said it can still be difficult to pinpoint an exact location where they became infected. Still, he indirectly criticized the president for holding big events with few masks and little physical distancing in the middle of a pandemic.

“There is no way that large gatherings over long periods of time with people standing together ... helps things,” Cooper said.

Shortly after the news conference, the state linked a positive coronavirus case to a rally hosted by Cooper's Republican gubernatorial challenger, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. The state public health department said a person who attended a rally in Burnsville on Oct. 15 tested positive. This aligns with the timing and location of an event hosted by local Republicans that Forest participated in.

Biden's campaign has hosted a small number of in-person events in North Carolina highlighted by small crowds, lots of masks and social distancing. It did not immediately offer a comment on the two positive cases among Trump rallygoers.

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.
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