Delegates respond to criticism after some seen not wearing masks at RNC

Updated: Aug. 25, 2020 at 2:11 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - One day after the Republican National Convention was held in Charlotte, we’re learning health safeguards that were put in place may have stopped some delegates who had the coronavirus from attending the convention.

Delegates were required to pass an at-home COVID-19 test prior to traveling to Charlotte. Upon their arrival at the Westin Hotel, where delegates stayed, Novant Health administered a second COVID-19 test.

Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris issued a statement regarding RNC COVID-19 test results Tuesday evening.

“There were a few that came in that tested I think positive, that left happily. But other than that, I think it was safe, I felt really, felt that we were somewhat in a bubble like the NBA and the Carolina Panthers,” South Carolina Republican delegate Glenn McCall said. “We felt safe. We had all been tested multiple times. And there were a number of people who wanted to be tested. I think Novant maybe tested a couple of times. And that was offered. If you felt you wanted a second test, you could.”

North Carolina GOP 9th District Chairman John Steward said he had not heard of any delegates testing positive for the virus, but feels confident that if any did test positive, they were stopped before spreading it to others.

“I have not heard that anybody tested positive. But if they did they were not allowed to go forward from there. You had to get a wristband from the doctors that cleared you after the test. So if somebody did test positive, I feel confident that they were quickly removed from the environment,” Steward said. “I think they did an extremely well job on the protocols. They had a medical staff that helped develop these protocols They went out of their way to make sure everyone there was safe.”

WBTV asked the Republican National Committee if they would confirm any positive cases found in delegates. A spokesperson responded with the following statement:

"The RNC established several layers of health safeguards to protect attendees and the community at large, including requiring attendees to take a COVID test before departure and a test again upon arrival. As you know, medical information is private under HIPAA, and we continue to be in communication with local and state health officials as required by law."

In addition to the two COVID-19 tests, delegates attending the RNC in person had to pass several health screenings and questionnaires ahead of the convention. Delegates were required to report any symptoms they experienced daily in an app, they received temperature checks at the Westin Hotel, and wore technology that tracked their movements to make contact tracing easier on health officials in case anyone started showing symptoms.

“We also had a tracker on our lanyards that we wore with our badges, identification, that would track our, I guess, the groups that we were in. And if anyone tested positive or had symptoms, they would notify us. It never happened to me anyway,” McCall said.

Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris released a statement Monday, expressing concern over some delegates not wearing masks or adhering to social distancing guidelines. Delegates were required to follow the North Carolina mask mandate and social distancing guidelines, according to the health protocols approved by the county and state government.

“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. 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.” Gibbie Harris said in a statement.

The Republican National Committee on Arrangements and a private security company contracted by the RNC were supposed to enforce the mask mandate and social distancing at the convention.

“Some of the delegates, and most of the delegates wore their masks. I think it’s because we all felt safe. We were in a bubble, if you will. We had all been tested and everyone had the vital checks every morning. And I a couple times, sat in my seat, which was 6 feet apart, and I would just take my mask and hang it down off my face. Hang it down one side of my face. And if I saw someone I would get up and I just wasn’t thinking that I didn’t have my mask on. So, I think we all felt safe and secure and that’s why some people had it on, and some didn’t,” McCall said.

“When the president came, some people rushed the stage a little bit. And probably just forgot to grab their mask before they left their seat. So at that point, yeah, there was a little bit of that. But when they were moving around, in between, when we were going down hallways or when we were going to be close together, I didn’t see anyone without a mask at that time,” Steward said. “But I will say even then everybody in the room had already been tested. It wasn’t like we were in the mall with the general population, everybody there was tested at least twice.”

Atrium Health was on site at the Convention Center Monday. WBTV asked Atrium Health’s Dr. David Callaway if he was concerned by some of the delegates not complying with the mask mandate.

“I think there’s always a concern when people don’t adhere to common sense public-health recommendations. I do think that we also expected that there would be some degree of this, so the fact that we were so aggressive up front about making sure that anybody that was in the building had had functionally two tests showing that they were negative, decreased that risk,” Dr. Callaway said. “I don’t think anybody thought that we would be able to get 100% mask compliance especially when the president showed up and wanted to get a picture with him. It’s understandable, it’s human nature. So, we did whatever we could to make sure that we were able to take care of that small percentage of people who didn’t want to follow the rules.”

McCall feels the safety precautions the Republican National Committee took to host the convention in person worked and could be emulated for other large gatherings.

“I definitely think that some of the protocols could be used to open up the Convention Center and open up Charlotte. To get larger groups than 10 together,” McCall said.

Steward also said he thinks the protocols were successful. But noted that other large group gatherings without such strict rules have also been successful.

“This was one of the first big events but if you look at it, a lot of the churches that have been meeting, they’ve had much larger crowds at the big churches. There are several that have 4, 5, 600 people there,” Steward said. “And it’s pretty much the same atmosphere and all those people did not go through the protocol. And we aren’t seeing a big increase. Churches in North Carolina have been meeting for about a month now, and we aren’t seeing a big spike from that.”

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