President Donald Trump arrives to his Make America Great Again campaign rally at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon in October 2020.
Caption
President Donald Trump arrives to his Make America Great Again campaign rally at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon earlier this month. Experts fear a similar rally in Rome on Sunday could be a COVID-19 super spreader event.
Credit: Madeleine Cook/Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

When President Trump comes to Rome on Sunday for one last Georgia rally before Election Day, it will be another example of his partisans’ right to peaceably assemble and let their voices be heard.  

It could also be a COVID-19 super spreading event.

Rome is the seat of Floyd County, where COVID-19 cases are rising at some of the fastest rates in the state and, according to the New York Times, where cases peaked in recent weeks.  

COVID-19 risk modeling tool from Georgia Tech predicts that a Floyd County crowd of just 100 people would almost certainly contain a person carrying and potentially spreading COVID-19. As evidenced by Trump’s recent rally in Macon, his crowds still number in the thousands. 

“When you talk about 1,000 person rally or a 2,000 person rally, then it would not be surprising for there to be 10 or 20 folks who are infected in a crowd of that size,” Georgia Tech biologist Joshua Weitz said. 

Weitz is one of the minds behind Tech's COVID-19 risk modeling tool. He said whatever you think about free speech rights, being in a crowd like that is a real health risk.  

“They obviously have a right to vote and a right to assemble," Weitz said, "but there have got to be more sensible ways to gather.”   

Weitz stresses the now-familiar safety precautions: Wear a mask, keep your distance from people with whom you don’t live and stay outdoors. If at least a couple of those don’t happen, Weitz said, a Floyd County rally could turn into a super spreading event. He points to a rise in infections in Minnesota that have been contact-traced back to a Trump rally there. Plus, a CNN investigation of 17 rallies found all but three of them saw an increased rate of new coronavirus cases one month after the rally.

Weitz isn’t the only one who is worried.  

“I think it's risky in most parts of the country to have that kind of thing," microbiologist and immunologist Amber Schmidtke said. "But it's especially risky in Floyd County.”  Schmidtke tracks Georgia COVID-19 trends in an online newsletter.  

“So we really kind of want people to be distant from each other and wearing a mask and outside,” she said.  

At the Macon rally, attendees were definitely outside, but there were few masks in the crowd and very little distance.  

“And so, you know, it is a risky sort of thing to go do while we're already in this vulnerable position,” Schmidtke said.  

Schmidtke said people who go to the rally should go ahead and plan on getting a COVID-19 test between three and seven days after.  

Georgia Tech Biologist Joshua Weitz agreed and said that the older viral PCR tests are still best.