CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Prompted by President Trump’s threat to pull the Republican National Convention from Charlotte unless “full attendance” was allowed, North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen requested a written COVID-19 safety plan from the CEO of the Republican National Convention Monday.

In a letter obtained by The Charlotte Observer, Cohen wrote to CEO Marcia Kelly that “we look forward to continuing to work with you and your team to ensure a safe RNC,” and there must be “several scenarios planned that can be deployed depending on the public health situation.”

Gov. Roy Cooper and Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles have not said definitively whether or not the convention will be held in August, instead insisting that data and science will govern their decisions on whether or not the RNC will go forward. Cohen’s letter is the clearest sign yet that the state is seriously planning for an in-person convention in Charlotte in August.

Before the pandemic, the RNC was expected to draw 50,000 people to Charlotte. Currently, under the second phase of Cooper’s reopening plan, the size of indoor gatherings is capped at 10 people.

Unless “full attendance” is allowed, Trump wrote on Twitter Monday, “we will be reluctantly forced to find, with all of the jobs and economic development it brings, another Republican National Convention site.”

It appears that Trump’s comments were a jolt to the ongoing negotiations between state officials and Republicans. On Friday, Cooper, Cohen, Kelly and Cooper aide Jordan Whichard spoke by phone to discuss the convention, according to the letter. When Trump tweeted his threat Monday, the president shared “an accelerated decision-making timeline,” Cohen wrote. An RNC spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It’s unclear if Trump’s comments were serious, meaning that he would like a full convention in Charlotte or no convention in Charlotte, or merely posturing for the negotiations between North Carolina and Republicans. Cohen’s letter said that she was scheduled to speak with Jeff Runge, the convention’s health and safety adviser, early Tuesday.

The Republican National Convention is scheduled for Aug. 24 to Aug. 27 at the Spectrum Center. Organizers are scheduled to take over the stadium mid-July for an extensive rebuilding of the venue, including raising the floor of the arena.

Some Republicans had discussed a scaled-back version of the convention, but Trump’s tweets Monday complicated those plans.

“There will be a convention in Charlotte. It’s a matter of what it looks like,” U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican up for reelection in 2020, told the Observer last week.

Tillis said he spoke with Lyles and felt that she was supportive of moving forward.

“We need to crystallize in the next two weeks exactly what the plans are,” he said.

Even prior to the health concerns of hosting a massive convention in Charlotte, the city’s hosting of RNC was politically contentious. The city’s bid was approved by the city council with a one-vote margin in 2018, with council members debating whether or not they could host the convention without endorsing his policies.

While Lyles and other prominent Charlotte officials have expressed a desire to host the convention, a growing liberal wing of Charlotte Democrats want nothing to do with the President, much less let him throw what is ultimately a grand party in his honor.

Earlier reticence, motivated mostly by politics, has now combined with public health concerns.

“There’s no way to maintain social distancing if you want to fill every seat in a room,” said Michael Thompson, a public health professor at UNC Charlotte, by phone. “The risk is that it could serve as a re-ignition point for cases. There’s the risk of re-exporting cases across the country.”


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