On Friday night, the president will make an appearance at Mount Rushmore for a showy event that is expected to draw 7,500 people. And, of course, social distancing will not be enforced, despite the recent surge of COVID-19 cases.
"... In South Dakota we've told people to focus on personal responsibility. Every one of them has the opportunity to make a decision that they're comfortable with, so we will be having celebrations of American independence," South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem told FOX News about Trump's scheduled event. "We told those folks that have concerns that they can stay home, but those who want to come and join us: We'll be giving out free face masks, if they choose to wear one. But we won't be social distancing."
Photos of the planned seating for the event have started to circulate on social media. As you can see below, there are rows and rows of fold-out chairs with very little space between each seat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged the public to maintain at least 6 feet of physical distance with other people when out in public; it has also recommended wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the novel virus.
Trump's Mount Rushmore appearance will take place as a number of U.S. states report single-day records for coronavirus infections. In light of the alarming surge, health experts have cautioned against large gatherings during Independence Day weekend, and have recommended citizens to celebrate in their homes with immediate family.
"It wasn't that those warnings weren't out there, it's just that people weren't following them as closely as they should have," Roberta Schwartz, the chief innovation officer at Houston Methodist Hospital, told NBC News. "We keep giving the message: Your patriotic duty this July Fourth is to stay home and celebrate with your nuclear family and not go out and try to have a party, because this is not the time for that."
Trump's Friday night Fourth of July event will also include military flyovers as well as a massive fireworks display. According to CNN, South Dakota officials banned fireworks at Mount Rushmore back in 2009 due to environmental concerns. Wildfire experts have expressed concern Trump's Independence Day festivities could result in devastating forest fires.
"Burning debris, the burning embers and unexploded shells fall into a ponderosa pine forest and ponderosa pine is extremely flammable," Bill Gabbert, the former fire management officer for Mount Rushmore, told the Rapid City Journal. “Shooting fireworks over a ponderosa pine forest, or any flammable vegetation, is ill advised and should not be done. Period."
The event is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, with Trump expected to take the stage at 6:45 p.m. Gov. Noem and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt will also deliver remarks before the fireworks display at 9:30.