Dallas County judge rules out Republican convention, citing COVID-19 risk of mass event Trump demands

Dallas News

WASHINGTON – Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins – the ultimate authority on whether a mass gathering can be held during COVID-19 – ruled out bringing the Republican National Convention to Dallas, saying Saturday that the event is too big to be safe.

He cited the current “code red” rating from the county’s Public Health Committee. At that risk level, people should stay home and avoid crowds.

President Donald Trump is insisting on a traditional convention that includes 19,000 GOP delegates and officials, plus thousands of news media, donors, security and protesters.

“They strongly recommend against that,” Jenkins said of the county’s epidemiology and infectious disease experts. “I made my peace early on to follow the lead of doctors and so I would respect that. And that would be my position on that.”

North Carolina’s governor, Democrat Roy Cooper, has refused to promise that Republicans can gather as planned in Charlotte, which was picked two years ago.

For the past week, the Republican National Committee has scrambled to find a fallback, naming a half dozen cities as contenders, including Dallas, Orlando and Jacksonville, Phoenix and Nashville, Tenn.

RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel told the Charlotte host committee on Thursday that the party is turning its focus to cities that have actively courted the massive event.

In fact, Dallas has taken no steps to lure the convention to the city, and local officials express no enthusiasm.

Mayor Eric Johnson said Friday that he’s heard nothing from the GOP and isn’t mounting a bid. He noted that the county has the ultimate say on approving such an event during a pandemic. The convention and visitors bureau, VisitDallas, is also unaware of any effort to bring the convention to the area, and it coordinated the city’s bid for the 2016 GOP convention six years ago.

Jenkins, speaking with journalists Saturday via video as part of the Texas Democratic Party’s virtual convention, confirmed that he hasn’t discussed the convention with anyone, either, let alone issued an invitation.

“I haven’t had any conversations with anyone planning the convention,” he said in response to a question from The Dallas Morning News. “What I hope they will do is look at the guidelines. Anyone can go to DallasCountyCovid.org, and you can look at what our local doctors are saying. What they’re saying is that we’re now at a red color.”

The four-day convention is scheduled to start Aug. 24.

Red, the highest level of public health danger under Dallas County’s system, calls for a “stay home, stay safe” response.

Among the recommendations: “Eliminate non-essential travel and group settings. For essential travel, practice strict physical distancing, wear facial coverings…Avoid all group settings or crowded areas at hotels or other facilities. Do not eat in shared dining areas. Avoid travel if over 65 or in a high risk group.”

A convention that big is unwise, Jenkins said, “even if we get to an orange or yellow color, which frankly, given the spike and deaths and things we’re seeing, is unlikely to happen by the time of the convention, unfortunately.”

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