President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump will travel to Mt. Rushmore National Memorial in Keystone, South Dakota, on Friday for an early Fourth of July fireworks celebration and flyover, the first of its kind in more than a decade. The event will gather “thousands” together during a global pandemic with no social distancing, comes amid a national conversation on monuments with racist histories and also highlights local environmental issues.
Trump has made significant efforts to downplay – or outright ignore – the pandemic in recent weeks, painting a rosy picture of the administration’s response and pushing reopenings despite the fact that 36 states are currently experiencing a rise in new cases.
The President faced sharp criticism for his large, in-person rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where multiple campaign staffers and Secret Service Agents tested positive for the virus. All of the campaign staffers who attended the rally are quarantining, as well as dozens of Secret Service agents.
South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, who worked with the President and the Department of Interior to make the event happen, said Monday that social distancing will not be enforced at the “large event,” though masks will be provided.
“In South Dakota, we’ve told people to focus on personal responsibility. Every one of them has the opportunity to make a decision that they are comfortable with. So we will be having celebrations of American independence, we will have a large event July 3,” she said during an appearance on Fox News.
“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,” she said. “But we won’t be social distancing, we’re asking them to come, be ready to celebrate, to enjoy the freedoms and the liberties that we have in this country.”
According to Recreation.gov, there was an online lottery for tickets, and the park will be closed to general visitation during the event, opening to ticketed guests at 3:00 p.m. local time Friday.
There may be health screening for ticketed guests in one area, and the website warns: “This event will be attended by thousands. Participants will be in close contact for an extended amount of time, please plan accordingly.”
“There are no social distancing requirements in place at this time,” a recording on the park’s main telephone line said on Monday.
Noem spokesman Ian Fury told CNN that attendees will be encouraged to follow guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even though they conflict with the governor’s claim they “won’t be social distancing.”
Asked to reconcile that discrepancy, Fury said: “We’re not anticipating that folks will be maintaining six feet of social distancing,” but reiterated that masks will be available to anyone who wants them, and noted the guidelines also encourage those who may have been exposed to stay home.
“We are encouraging attendees to follow CDC guidelines, extensive safety signage will be posted at the event, and masks will be available, but attendees will be exercising their personal responsibility in choosing to attend,” Fury said.
Guidelines from the CDC specifically address how Americans should protect themselves from Covid-19 when visiting parks and recreational facilities and caution against exactly this type of event. People are urged to “visit parks that are close to your home” and “stay at least 6 feet away from others you don’t live with (“social distancing”),” and are told not to “visit crowded parks.”
“Stay at least 6 feet from others at all times. This might make some open areas, trails, and paths better to use than others. Do not go into a crowded area…Do not visit parks where you cannot stay at least 6 feet away from people you don’t live with,” the guidance says.
Coronavirus cases in South Dakota currently remain stable, with 6,716 confirmed cases and 91 deaths as of Tuesday – but it remains to be seen how many attendees will travel from other states.
Trump is also expected to attend traditional fireworks festivities on the White House South Lawn on July 4, though it’s unclear how or if social distancing will be enforced.
Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser urged Washingtonians to watch the fireworks from home during a news conference last week.
“We want to send a message to our residents to enjoy the Fourth of July, to celebrate, according to our guidance, and to do it at home,” she said.
“We of course know that the White House has already announced its plans, and the National Park Service will conduct the fireworks to celebrate the nation’s birthday. We will continue to support those activities in the way that we have traditionally. But we hope that the crowds that come in non-pandemic years won’t materialize this year,” she added.
CNN’s Maegan Vazquez and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.