The Texas Republican Party plans to hold its state convention in person next week in Houston, ignoring requests by the city’s Democratic mayor that it be held virtually due to a surge in coronavirus infections.
The event is scheduled for July 16-18 inside a convention center that can accommodate 6,000 people.
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“A state convention of a political party is a fundamental exercise of the freedom to peaceably assemble,” Republican Party of Texas (RPT) chairman James Dickey said late Monday in a statement.
“That need to assemble is important, and we are taking every precaution to ensure it is done safely,” including the distribution of masks and checking the temperature of attendees, said Dickey, a supporter of President Donald Trump.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, wrote to the RPT urging it to transition to an online convention to “protect the health and perhaps the very lives” of those intending to attend and those working the event.
“I do not think it is wise or prudent to hold an in-person convention of 6,000 or more at this point in time,” he told a press conference.
The mayor, quoting a local health official, warned on Twitter that an in-person convention while Texas virus cases trend upward “will be a super spreader” event.
Should the convention be held as planned, Turner said, health inspectors will be dispatched and the event will be shut down if health directives are not followed.
Houston emerged as a pandemic hotspot in June, and on Tuesday, the city reached a total of 37,776 cases of COVID-19 since the first outbreaks.
Texas was one of the first US states to reopen, in early May, following weeks of lockdowns aimed at stemming the pandemic’s spread.
But while other states like New York, the early outbreak epicenter, have seen their cases drop, Texas and other southern states have experienced spikes.
On Thursday, Texas’ Republican governor, Greg Abbott, ordered the mandatory wearing of masks in all public places.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, however, appeared to reject cautionary warnings by Anthony Fauci, the nation’s pre-eminent infectious disease expert, telling Fox News that Fauci “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
The Texas GOP’s defiance comes as two veteran Republican US senators, Chuck Grassley and Lamar Alexander, both in their eighties, said they will skip the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville, Florida due to coronavirus concerns.
Trump moved the national convention from North Carolina after that state’s Democratic governor could not assure such a large in-person event could take place.