Trump hosts White House event against guidance of public health officials

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U.S. President Donald Trump made his first public appearance on Saturday since returning to the White House after his hospitalization for the coronavirus.

The White House has refused to declare that he is no longer contagious, and the gathering of hundreds of people on the South Lawn went ahead despite the guidance of public health officials.

Trump delivered an address on his support for law enforcement from the Blue Room balcony to a friendly crowd. The president wore a mask as he walked before the speech but took it off to make his remarks. He received an enthusiastic response from his supporters.

“I’m feeling great,” said Trump, who said he was thankful for their good wishes and prayers as he recovered.

Trump is also priming for a Florida rally on Monday and campaign events in Iowa and Pennsylvania later in the week ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

A crowd of Trump supporters gather on the South Lawn of the White House on Saturday. (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

The White House insisted the event on the South Lawn was an official event and not a campaign rally. But Trump used the address to make broadsides against the Democratic ticket of former vice-president Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris.

“I think we’re gonna swamp them by so much,” he said.

Trump also remarked that many countries, including Canada, are seeing a COVID-19 surge.​​​​​​

“You see big flare-ups in Europe, big flare-ups in Canada, a very big flare-up in Canada, you saw that today,” he said. “A lot of flare-ups, but it’s going to disappear. It is disappearing.”

Many provinces in Canada are seeing spikes, with the two largest — Ontario and Quebec — reporting more than 1,900 cases combined on Saturday. In comparison, the U.S. has seen more than 57,000 so far on Saturday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

WATCH | Trump says Canada is seeing a ‘flare-up’  of COVID-19:

During his first public event since he was diagnosed with COVID-19, U.S. President Donald Trump said Canada and other countries are experiencing ‘flare-ups’ of the virus. 0:22

Trump appeared healthy, though perhaps a little hoarse, during the 18-minute speech that was intended to send the message that he’s back and ready to resume his battle for re-election.

Before the speech, White House officials said they had no information to release on whether the president was tested for COVID-19, meaning he would make his first public appearance without the White House verifying that he’s no longer contagious.

Security was stepped up around the White House before the event, which was called a “peaceful protest for law & order.” Police and the Secret Service closed surrounding streets to vehicles and shut down Lafayette Square, the park near the White House that has long been a gathering place for public protest.

Security was stepped up around the White House before the event, which was called a ‘peaceful protest for law & order.’ (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

As questions linger about his health — and Democratic opponent Biden steps up his own campaigning — Trump also planned to leave the Washington area for the first time since he was hospitalized for a campaign rally in Sanford, Fla.

He is also increasing his radio and TV appearances with conservative interviewers, hoping to make up for lost time with just over three weeks until Election Day and millions already voting.

Biden’s campaign said he again tested negative on Saturday for COVID-19. Biden was potentially exposed to the coronavirus during his Sept. 29 debate with Trump, who announced his positive diagnosis barely 48 hours after the debate.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks to reporters as he departs Wilmington, Del., on Saturday. (Kevin Lamarque)

The president has not been seen in public — other than in White House-produced videos — since his return on Monday from the military hospital, where he received experimental treatments for the coronavirus.

Most in the crowd that gathered for his speech on supporting law enforcement wore masks, but there was little physical distancing.

Saturday’s speech comes two weeks after his Rose Garden event that has been labelled a “super-spreader” for the virus. More than two dozen people linked to the White House have contracted COVID-19 since the president’s Sept. 26 event announcing Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court.

More than two dozen people linked to the White House have contracted COVID-19 since the president’s Sept. 26 event announcing Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court. (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

Attendees at Saturday’s event were strongly encouraged to follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines, which include mask-wearing and physical distancing. All attendees were required to bring masks or masks would be provided. They were also given temperature checks and asked to fill out a brief questionnaire.

Trump’s Monday event in Sanford, Fla., what he’s described as a “BIG RALLY,” was originally scheduled to be held on Oct. 2, the day after he tested positive.

Ahead of his Saturday event, Trump used Twitter to share news articles about problems with mail-in ballots in New Jersey, Ohio and Texas. Trump has repeatedly made unsubstantiated claims that universal mail-in voting is beset by widespread fraud.

Trump’s return to public activity came as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, cautioned the White House again to avoid large-scale gatherings of people without masks.

He said of the Barrett event in an interview with The Associated Press, “I was not surprised to see a super-spreader event given the circumstances.” That means “crowded, congregate setting, not wearing masks. It is not surprising to see an outbreak,” he said.

Virus restrictions in the District of Columbia, where the White House is located, prohibit outdoor gatherings larger than 50 people, although that rule has not been strictly enforced. Masks are mandatory outdoors for most people, but the regulations don’t apply on federal land, and the Trump White House has openly flouted them for months.

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