CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - Face masks were supposed to be worn at the Republican National Convention in Charlotte. In addition to North Carolina’s COVID-19 statewide mask mandate, RNC staff agreed to enforce the rule inside the convention center.
But on the floor of the RNC, strict coronavirus protocols quickly fell by the wayside Monday.
Social distancing was expected too — in addition to COVID-19 symptom screening and testing — to prevent a virus flareup as more than 300 delegates gathered at the Charlotte Convention Center Monday, in a dramatically scaled-down RNC to renominate President Donald Trump.
But many inside were seen not wearing masks and some attendees shook hands and huddled in tight-knit circles as the RNC recessed awaiting the arrival of Vice President Mike Pence. Among delegates and convention staff, some people did wear masks. Still others did not or were seen wearing face coverings ineffectively, such as having the mask slung below their chins.
Mecklenburg Public Health Director Gibbie Harris said Monday she contacted the RNC about the lack of masks and social distancing, observed not only by journalists inside the convention hall but also easily seen on live streams from the event.
“I have just shared concern about the lack of mask wearing and social distancing in the room at the RNC Roll Call Meeting with the RNC Convention staff,” Harris said in a statement Monday.
“I have been assured that they are working hard to address these issues. All attendees agreed to comply with the requirements prior to attending and were informed that these requirements would be enforced.”
Yet just a few hours later, delegates swiftly converged near the stage of the Richardson Ballroom as Trump concluded his remarks, holding up smartphones to snap a picture of their presidential nominee. Attendees, packed close to one another, danced the YMCA — with many still not wearing face coverings.
The scenes inside the Convention Center sharply contrasted with recent assurances from RNC and local officials, who have touted sweeping health guidelines to mitigate COVID-19 exposure risk for delegates and Charlotte area residents.
Republican National Convention delegates applaud while at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, N.C., Monday August, 24, 2020. The GOP convention was scaled back this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. David T. Foster III DTFOSTER@CHARLOTTEOBSERVER.COM
State health officials in North Carolina agreed to both “flexibly enforce” COVID-19 rules and gave RNC planners an exception on crowd size limits so that business meetings could be held. Still, local officials were assured masks would be worn.
“No gathering is risk free, but we have multiple layers of risk reduction that will bring the risk level into hopefully an acceptable level,” Harris said in a Friday news conference. “The top priority of public health and the convention planners is the safety and health of all attendees, all support staff and the surrounding community.”
The Charlotte area continues to grapple with the highest coronavirus case levels in North Carolina, though crucial trends — including hospitalizations and the test positivity rate — continue to improve. There have been 24,260 coronavirus cases and 282 related deaths among Mecklenburg residents as of Monday afternoon, according to state and local health officials said.
All RNC attendees were tested before traveling to Charlotte — and then again after arriving in the Queen City. Before entering any convention space or event, RNC attendees must produce negative test results, according to health protocols.
As of Friday, no workers at the RNC had tested positive for COVID-19, Harris told reporters.
Still, the public likely won’t know right away if delegates or other guests of the Republican National Convention furthered spread of COVID-19 in Charlotte.
Quick-turnaround testing for coronavirus is in place for the convention but results won’t be immediately publicly-disclosed, Harris said. After the event is over, an “after-action” report will be released but the timing of that is unclear.