None of the National Park Service staff on site preparing for the Mount Rushmore fireworks event President Trump plans to attend Friday night were required to undergo testing or wear masks, a National Park Services spokesperson tells Forbes, even though thousands of people have reserved tickets for the event scheduled for Friday evening amid a surge in coronavirus cases across the country.
National Park Service spokesperson Dana Soehn confirmed to Forbes Friday that National Park staff were not required to undergo testing before the event on Friday, and were instead encouraged to self-test and check their temperature if they experience any symptoms.
While masks were recommended and made available to NPS employees, they were not required.
As of early Friday afternoon, Soehn said no park team members “reported exhibiting any symptoms or feeling unwell,” though health officials caution that asymptomatic people can spread the virus.
7,500 people have obtained tickets for the fireworks event at which Trump is scheduled to speak, and while attendees will be provided face masks, they will not be required to wear them, or maintain CDC-recommended social distancing.
The former superintendent of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial from 2010-2019, Cheryl Schreier, told Forbes she was worried about the possibility the event could become a hot spot for coronavirus infections, saying the amphitheater that will be used for the event holds just 2,500 people (the rest will be in a spillover area) making it “difficult” to social distance.
Schreier also said NPS staff would “probably” be in “very close contact” with people at the event, including cleaning bathrooms and giving out information and directions; Soehn disagreed, saying she believed park staff would not be “handling people per se.”
The White House did not respond to an immediate request for comment and Mount Rushmore superintendent, Patricia Trap, declined to comment for this story.
Dan Wenk, a former Mount Rushmore superintendent who started the tradition of having fireworks at Mount Rushmore in 1998, told Forbes that making testing optional for National Park staff was “unacceptable.” Wenk added that he hoped at the very least the National Park Service would make testing available to park staff because of the high risk of virus transmission.
“It was a great event,” Wenk said of the fireworks ceremony held at Mount Rushmore in years past. “Unfortunately, it’s not a great event during Covid-19 and when it’s turned into a political rally.”
In a follow-up email statement to Forbes, Soehn said the National Park Service “is following CDC guidance for health monitoring of the workforce” and Department of Interior employees “are encouraged to conduct daily self-monitoring for symptoms of COVID-19” and “”to not report to the workplace if they exhibit any symptoms or feeling unwell.”
When asked by Forbes whether staff other than the National Park Service working the event were screened, Maggie Seidel, a spokesperson for Gov. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), said other venue workers were not tested and directed Forbes to statements by the governor about the event. “If folks are concerned about Covid, they should stay home,” Seidel added.
The Mount Rushmore event comes as Trump faces backlash for a Tulsa, Oklahoma, rally on June 20 in which eight staff members tested positive for the virus and dozens of Secret Service agents were told to self-quarantine after being exposed to around 6,200 people inside the stadium. In recent weeks, South Dakota has watched its number of coronavirus cases drop.
The event has also drawn controversy because of the landmark’s history and protesters are expected to attend, Politico reports (the landmark was built on land taken from Native Americans and honors presidents critics say were hateful towards Indegenious people.)
91. The number of people who have died from COVID-19 in the sparsely populated state of South Dakota. In April, there was a large outbreak at a South Dakota meatpacking plant that became one of the largest hot spots in the U.S. Since then, though, the state has been able to control the outbreak and has averaged just a few dozen cases each day in the last several weeks.
Trump’s Rushmore trip draws real and figurative fireworks (Associated Press)