President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the BOK Center, Saturday, June 20, 2020, in Tulsa, Okla.
President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the BOK Center, Saturday, June 20, 2020, in Tulsa, Okla. The event caused a spike in local COVID-19 cases, said health officials. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The President’s planned rallies for Green Bay and La Crosse put lives in danger.

On August 17, the first day of the Democratic Convention in Milwaukee, President Donald Trump headlined three rallies designed to mock Joe Biden’s cautious campaign approach during the coronavirus pandemic.  One of those rallies took place at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh in the heart of the Fox Valley.  Photos of the event show a large crowd gathered together in a close space, many with no mask or masks on inconsistently.  Reports indicate that the crowd gathered for about three total hours, including the time prior to the president’s arrival.

As a family physician in Wisconsin for the past 13 years, my focus has always been on preventing disease and keeping communities healthy.  I use a combination of science, public health data, and the most up-to-date medical evidence to guide my patients and community.  I’ve studied everything I can about the coronavirus so I can help prevent its spread.  The best public health strategy so far has been a combination of wearing facemasks, staying physically distanced from non-household members, and frequently washing hands.  

Precisely because he does not follow or promote these evidence-based strategies during his political rallies, President Donald Trump is putting Wisconsin’s communities at risk for significant COVID-19 exposure and illness. Already, we can see how the Oshkosh rally affected COVID-19 hospitalization rates in the Fox Valley over the past six weeks. By reviewing data for the Fox Valley on Wisconsin’s Department of Human Services website, it is easy to see several things: 1)  COVID-19 hospitalizations have been rising at a rate far faster than any other time during the pandemic, 2) This rate of increase started about two weeks after Trump’s Oshkosh rally, and 3) The capacity of hospitals in the Fox Valley—only about 850 beds—is limited as COVID-19 patients take up more bed space.  At the current rate of increase, Fox Valley hospitals will soon be overrun and unable to provide care to others who need it.  

Despite this danger, Trump still held a rally in Mosinee while Marathon County was experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases.  He has since announced rallies in La Crosse and Green Bay on Saturday, October 3rd.  This comes as Green Bay area hospitals are nearly overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients (including one major hospital noting that 75% of its ICU beds and 66% of its medical beds are filled with COVID-19 patients) and as Brown County officials implore Green Bay residents to wear face masks, wash their hands, and keep distanced from each other.  Furthermore, according to a recent New York Times analysis, La Crosse currently has the country’s second worst outbreak, while Green Bay has the sixth worst outbreak.  

Being presidential means taking care of the American people.  But as my physician colleagues and I have previously noted, Trump has shown, through his rallies and multiple actions as president, that he only cares about himself and his re-election.   Therefore, we must take action to protect ourselves.  

One option is for local leaders to close businesses in the area in order to protect Green Bay, La Crosse and surrounding communities during and after each rally.  A study done after Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, revealed that local business closures during and after the rally, along with limited movement of local residents who did not attend the rally, helped limit local coronavirus spread.  There was no such undertaking in Oshkosh, and Fox Valley hospitals are now overwhelmed.  

State and local officials, particularly GOP officials, can also speak out against Trump coming to two cities in the state where COVID-19 cases are rapidly rising and large gatherings are ill-advised. Despite daily partisan bickering in Wisconsin, state leaders calling on the president to protect his supporters is the right thing to do.

If our legislative and local leaders won’t, then we as Wisconsinites need to work together to protect each other.  Choose to stay home this coming Saturday night.  Don’t attend either rally or even go near them.  If you do decide to go to one of the rallies, wear a mask and be prepared to self quarantine through at least October 17th.  Above all, consider whether four more years of a self-indulgent man who willfully puts our lives in danger is worth the cost, and vote accordingly November 3rd.

Joanna Turner Bisgrove, MD FAAFP is a family physician in Wisconsin.  The above is the author’s opinion and not necessarily reflective of her workplace or any party she represents.