RNC: Convention attendees will have to pass a COVID-19 test -- every day

Sounds great … in theory. With concerns growing that the Republican national convention in Jacksonville might become a COVID-19 super-spreader event, and with Florida already dealing with significant spikes in new cases, the RNC announced this morning that they will screen for cases at the entry of the event. These tests will take place each of the four days — and will screen every one of the people admitted to the 15,000-capacity arena.

In theory, that should deal with any transmission issues. But in real life, the logistics of such a screening regime would be daunting, if not well-nigh impossible:

Officials with the Republican National Convention will conduct daily coronavirus testing for those attending the event in August.

Erin Isaac, the spokeswoman for the host committee of the Jacksonville portion of the convention, said in an emailed memo on Monday that “everyone attending the convention within the perimeter will be tested and temperature checked each day.” …

The news comes on the heels of Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn saying on Sunday that it was “too early to tell” whether Florida will be a safe place for the convention next month due to a surge in COVID-19 cases in the state.

As News4Jax points out, the fastest COVID-19 test takes just under 15 minutes to produce a result. That means that each person individually will have to wait outside the arena for at least that long, plus deal with all of the other security screening. Even if they cap the limit of the convention to 5,000 people for distancing purposes, that comes up to 1,250 person-hours every day for people just to wait for their results. Where are they supposed to wait? And what happens when one gets a positive result — but has been hanging around in a crowded outdoor pen with a bunch of other people who just tested negative?

And let’s not lose sight of the fact that Donald Trump wanted this convention as a way to hold a rally at a full-house venue. If they run to capacity, then they have 3,750 person-hours of waiting time for results, and an even bigger logistical challenge. On top of that, the convention will result in airplane travel to Jacksonville and then back out to practically everywhere in the US, when transmissions of COVID-19 are accelerating in the state as a whole. Even if the testing gets done at the hotels and then only the cleared get to board buses to the arena, that creates a series of massive backlogs at those hotels. Add all this onto the normal security processes for entering into any national convention in the post-9/11 era, and good luck fielding a quorum by 5 pm ET.

Is it even possible to stage that kind of testing process on the scale imagined for this convention? And even if it’s possible, is it worth it when the downside could be another wave of coronavirus spikes that could be directly attributable to a political rally with no real electoral purpose?

Chuck Grassley has already answered that question. For the first time in forty years, the Iowa senator will take a pass on appearing at his party’s convention. He’s not opposed to holding the convention per se, but wants a whole lotta masking going on:

Citing concerns about the coronavirus, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley said he will not attend this year’s Republican National Convention, marking the first time he has sat out a convention since he was elected to the U.S. Senate 40 years ago.

“I’m not going to go. And I’m not going to go because of the virus situation,” Grassley said Monday morning on a conference call with reporters. …

Grassley said it made sense to move the convention from North Carolina since the governor didn’t feel it was safe to host a large gathering there.

“Going to a place where the governor feels that it’s safer is probably the right thing to do if you want to have a convention,” he said. “And I think we should have a convention, but I think you should do whatever you can to make it as safe as possible so that would mean with face masks and with social distancing.”

As News4Jax points out, the city now has a mask mandate for all indoor events already. Apparently that wasn’t enough for Grassley, and probably for good reason. One might expect the RNC and White House to pressure Mayor Lenny Curry into rescinding the order by late August, but that’s still the least of the issues regarding logistics. And it’s also not clear that Trump will follow Grassley’s advice and speak to a partly empty arena in the service of social distancing, either.

All of this prompts the question again — just what does the RNC value so much about this that they can’t get from a single outdoor rally, where the logistics might be easier? Political conventions were an anachronism long before COVID-19 emerged, but their ceremonial nature is even more obvious now. Choose an outdoor venue for a local rally, put it on national TV, and tell everyone else to get on the Zoom call for the limited amount of actual business conducted at the conventions.

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