WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and Republican officials are preparing for the possibility of a fully outdoor convention in Jacksonville, Florida, next month as coronavirus cases in the state shatter records, according to two GOP officials involved in the planning.
The president met with his top political advisers at the White House on Monday to discuss how several events, scheduled for six weeks from now, could move from an indoor venue to several outside ones. The Republican National Committee, or RNC, has already contracted with several open-air arenas, stadiums and amphitheaters to more safely bring together attendees and delegates, but it’s unclear how many people total will be allowed to gather.
It’s also unknown how much of the convention programming, which is already being scaled back from a traditional four-day gathering, will be shifted outdoors. Officials stressed the plan is still in flux and likely will be for the next few weeks as the pandemic rages on in Florida.
After months of claiming the RNC would proceed as planned, officials uprooted the event from Charlotte, North Carolina, when Trump couldn’t get a guarantee from the state's Democratic governor that he could give his keynote address to thousands of supporters without social distancing.
Now, Republicans are finally acknowledging — four months into the pandemic — they must account for “multiple scenarios and various health precautions,” according to one official.
The contingency plans come as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is weighing whether to lift an executive order that requires large sporting venues to operate at no more than 50 percent capacity. Additionally, the city of Jacksonville currently has a mask mandate, but it’s unclear whether that will still be in place in six weeks.
The other considerations factoring into the planning of any outdoor event in the state at the end of August, health crisis aside: the potential for record heat, humidity and hurricanes. The last time the GOP held its nominating convention in Florida — Tampa in 2012 — the party was forced to cancel the first day's events due to Hurricane Isaac.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that Republicans are already planning to change all of the events slated for Aug. 25, 26 and 27 from the Vystar Arena — which seats 15,000 — to open-air venues instead.
Trump didn't firmly answer or go into much detail when asked whether the convention will still take place in Jacksonville next month with cases spiking, telling reporters Monday: "Well, we're going to see. It built up a little bit but we’re going to do something that will be great."