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Trump's Tulsa Rally Comes Despite Increases Of COVID-19 Infections

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to Tulsa, Okla., where President Trump is holding his first presidential campaign rally tonight since the beginning of the pandemic. That rally is going forward despite the fact that six campaign staffers who were working on preparations for the event in Tulsa, Okla., have tested positive for COVID-19. There's also been controversy since the rally was originally scheduled on Juneteenth, a day commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

We're turning now to Logan Layden with member station KGOU. He is near the site of tonight's rally in Tulsa.

Logan, thanks so much for joining us.

LOGAN LAYDEN, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So let's start with this news about the campaign staffers testing positive for COVID-19. Is there any more that you can tell us?

LAYDEN: Well, that news came out just as people started to stream into the arena where the rally is being held. The campaign says six members of the advance team tested positive out of hundreds who were tested. They say they are being quarantined and that anyone in the immediate contact with them will not be at the rally tonight. The campaign is doing temperature checks tonight. They've been handing out masks and hand sanitizer. The Trump aides have given different answers about whether they would wear masks here themselves.

MARTIN: Well, I understand that Oklahoma has fully reopened. There are no mandatory requirements for face masks or social distancing. But there has been a spike in COVID-19 cases there. So what are public health officials saying about tonight's indoor rally?

LAYDEN: Well, the state and the local health officials - they do seem to disagree on this. The state is in the middle of a spike in cases. We've had the most since the start of the pandemic. The highest infection rates in the last week have been centered in Tulsa when it comes to our state. Local officials have been begging the president to postpone the rally.

State health and other government officials, including the governor, say attending the rally is a matter of personal responsibility. Masks are not required, but hand-sanitizing stations have been installed. And they have encouraged people with health conditions and those over the age of 65 to stay away.

MARTIN: Well, given all those concerns, what's the atmosphere like?

LAYDEN: We've been reporting in the area since Thursday. The security level is high, but it is a festive atmosphere. There are more than a hundred people that have been camping since the beginning of the week, waving flags and depicting the president, driving by in makeshift parades, yelling Trump 2020 and selling a lot of merchandise. But today, the area has been flooded with people. Tulsa officials believe at least 100,000 people will be here for Trump's rally. This is Adrian Hernandez (ph) from Broken Arrow, which is a suburb just outside of Tulsa.

ADRIAN HERNANDEZ: We're enjoying the gathering of people that love their countrymen, plain and simple. You can make it into a complicated thing as far for people's ideals. That's regardless of what line - you know, what side of the line you lean on. Got a lot of people here that love God, man. And I think that's the starter that we should focus on.

LAYDEN: Trump's supporters - they're not the only people here in Tulsa. Just a few blocks away in an area known as Greenwood - it was once called Black Wall Street - that was the site of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. Dozens of businesses and hundreds of homes were burned by a white mob nearly a hundred years ago. It's in a time of sort of renaissance now, and last night, it was the site of one of the country's largest Juneteenth celebrations.

MARTIN: We're going to hear more about this later in the program. But, Logan, as briefly as you can, the president drew a lot of criticism for originally scheduling the rally on Juneteenth. And that criticism has continued. Have you had a chance to talk with some of the African American residents of Tulsa, how they feel about this?

LAYDEN: I have. Yes, yes, very much yesterday. And it was a day of celebration. But all week, Tulsa Black leaders - they've called on the president to move the rally or cancel it altogether. They made demands for police reforms. I've been in the area this afternoon, and those two groups - the Trump supporters and those more aligned with Black Lives Matter that are calling for racial justice - they have come together. It's been heated arguments, harsh words, harsh back and forth. But so far, it has been passionate but civil.

MARTIN: That is Logan Layden with member station KGOU near the site of President Trump's rally tonight in Tulsa, Okla.

Logan, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks for your reporting.

LAYDEN: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: And later this hour, we will speak with State Representative Regina Goodwin. She grew up in the historic Greenwood area of Tulsa where the Tulsa massacre took place and now represents the area in the legislature. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.