New Jersey officials fear Trump fundraiser in Bedminster could turn into super spreader

10/02/2020 

Politico

President Donald Trump arrives at Morristown Municipal Airport to attend a fundraiser at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster. 

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New Jersey authorities, already facing alarming spikes in coronavirus cases after a months-long lull, are now dealing with possible super-spreader event — and President Donald Trump may be the source.

Trump held a high-dollar fundraiser at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., on Thursday that was attended by about 100 people — even after Hope Hicks, a close White House aide with whom the president had been in contact, tested positive for Covid-19.

The president and first lady Melania Trump announced early Friday that they had both tested positive for coronavirus and would self-quarantine. It is unclear whether Trump caught the virus directly from Hicks, who had traveled with him Tuesday for his debate against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in Cleveland. Hicks showed symptoms and received her test result early Thursday.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, said “the contact-tracing process is underway.”

“We urge everyone who was in and around the Bedminster event or events yesterday to take full precautions, including self-quarantining and ultimately getting tested,” Murphy said at a press briefing Friday afternoon.

Asked if there were state social distancing guideline violations at the fundraiser, Murphy said “I can’t rule anything in or out right now. It’s too early to tell.”

Organizers of the Bedminster event sent an email to attendees informing them of Trump’s diagnosis and encouraging them to “contact your medical provider if you or any of your loved ones is ill or develops a fever, shortness of breath, or other respiratory symptoms.”

The larger portion of the fundraiser at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster, for which tickets cost $2,800, took place outdoors, according to two attendees who spoke to POLITICO on Friday. Both said many in the crowd wore masks — contrary to since-deleted messages on social media — and kept a safe distance from each other.

“He looked 100 percent normal,” John Sette, the former Republican chair of Morris County, said of Trump. “He spoke 100 percent normal. He spoke for about 15 minutes and he took questions for an hour."

Sette said the president remained far from the crowd — about 50 feet — and that food was served at several stations around the grounds by staff who remained behind plexiglass.

The event wasn’t attended by many New Jersey political insiders, Sette said. The only person he said he recognized was Joe Piscopo, the former “Saturday Night Live“ cast member who now has a conservative radio talk show and has toyed with running for New Jersey governor.

“For me to go to a political event and not know anybody, it’s like the first time in my life,” he said.

Rik Mehta, a Republican who’s running against Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), said Trump briefly plugged his candidacy during a question and answer program. A “good portion” of the audience wore masks, Mehta said, though since-deleted social media posts by another attendee showed most in the crowd not wearing masks.

“It was an outdoor event put together very nice. Beautiful event, beautiful weather,” Mehta said, adding that the president “seemed well.”

The statements by Sette and Mehta run contrary to other media accounts, which have cited anonymous attendees who said the president appeared “lethargic” and “not himself” during the event. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows acknowledged Friday that Trump is experiencing “mild symptoms.”

A smaller part of the fundraiser — for $250,000 donors — was held indoors, with 19 people sitting at a table with the president for 45 minutes to an hour, Republican donor Dr. Richard Roberts said in a video published by the Lakewood Scoop, a local news outlet in New Jersey. Roberts, a pharmaceutal executive, did not address the president’s coronavirus diagnosis, and it’s not clear if the video was shot before the news was made public.

New Jersey was hit especially hard by Covid-19 early in the pandemic, with thousands of new cases being reported each day.

But after a devastating spring, in which hospitals were nearly overwhelmed, New Jersey’s case counts had flattened, staying mostly in the low hundreds for months. In recent weeks, however, there have been alarming case spikes within the state’s large ultra-orthodox Jewish population in the southern New Jersey town of Lakewood.

After the Trump fundraiser, state and local health authorities were scrambling to prevent the event from causing problems farther north in Somerset County, in the well-heeled part of the state where the president‘s golf course is located.

Murphy cautioned that the fundraiser was a "regional" event and so it had the potential to spread the virus widely, even beyond New Jersey’s borders.

"This is not everybody who lives in Bedminster, so we’ve also got to acknowledge there will be other communities, potentially other counties and perhaps even folks who come in from other states," he said at Friday’s press conference.

Dawn Thomas, a spokesperson for the state Department of Health, said in a statement that the department is working with health officials in Somerset County “as they undertake a contact tracing investigation to determine potential risk of exposure to attendees and staff at the facility to Covid-19.“

“As the investigation proceeds, the Department of Health will assist Somerset County in notifying health departments affected in other counties, as well as out of state health departments“ Thomas said.

Murphy, a liberal Democrat who prior to the pandemic frequently launched broadsides against Trump, but toned down his criticism as the state depended on federal resources to fight the disease, wished the president and first lady well on Friday.

"Tammy and I send our best wishes to President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a speedy and complete return to good health,” Murphy and his wife, Tammy, said in a statement said. “If there is one thing we have learned in New Jersey over these months, it's that we pull together and support everyone fighting this virus.”

But local Democrats in Somerset County — a once solidly Republican county that has shifted toward Democrats in the Trump era — did not hold back.

“This morning we wake up to learn that Trump was infected with COVID-19 while glad-handing his supporters in Bedminster,” Somerset County Democratic Chair Peg Schaffer said in a statement. “While this is completely irresponsible behavior for anyone, for the President of the United States to risk the health and lives of his own supporters, their families, their neighbors and the workers and wait staff at his club is unfathomably selfish."

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published this page in News and Politics 2020-10-03 04:05:50 -0700