US President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrived at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial on Friday to celebrate an early Fourth of July at a gathering of about 7,500 people during the global coronavirus pandemic.
No social distancing was planned for the event — despite record-high new coronavirus cases in the country. And the event is taking place amid environmental concerns over the use of fireworks in the dry land and as the US engages in a reckoning over its own monuments and racist history.
“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,” Republican Gov. Kristi Noem said during a Monday appearance on Fox News.
There may be health screening for ticketed guests in one area, according to recreation.gov. A recording on the park’s main telephone line Monday said: “There are no social distancing requirements in place at this time.”
The 7,500 tickets for Friday’s event are lower than the typical visitor flow during the busy summer season. On normal days, up to 32,000 visitors come to Mount Rushmore during a 10-hour period. The park never closed during the pandemic, but visitation has been down to about 20,000 people, said Maureen McGee-Ballinger, Mount Rushmore’s chief of interpretation and education.
Coronavirus cases in South Dakota remain stable, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, with 6,893 confirmed cases and 97 deaths as of Thursday. But it remains to be seen how many attendees will travel from other states, 36 of which are experiencing a rise in new cases.