Trump campaign asks rally-goers to waive COVID-19 liability

John Harney

President Donald Trump’s campaign is asking people attending his campaign rally in Oklahoma next week to waive liability if they contract Covid-19 – even as he hurtles forward to reopen the country.

The president traveled to Texas on Thursday for two events as that state struggled with a new surge in coronavirus cases and Houston prepared to possibly reopen a Covid-19 hospital at a football stadium.

An online ticket form for the Trump campaign rally at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 19, tells potential participants that by attending, “you and any guests voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to Covid-19 and agree not to hold Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.; BOK Center; ASM Global; or any of their affiliates, directors, officers, employees, agents, contractors, or volunteers liable for any illness or injury.”

President Donald Trump's campaign is asking people attending his campaign rally in Oklahoma next week to waive liability if they contract Covid-19.

Trump, who has spent most of the past several months in the White House and was forced to curtail his presidential campaign, has been impatient to get back on the road.

Yet as the visit to Texas on Thursday showed, that approach comes at a considerable political risk – that his renewed activity will coincide with a sharp rise of widespread illness and deaths, and no vaccine or treatment for the illness on the horizon.

He traveled to Dallas for a roundtable discussion with religious leaders, law enforcement officials and business people, followed by the first in-person fundraiser for his re-election campaign since much of the country shut down to prevent the spread of the virus.

As he was starting the roundtable, Houston-area officials announced that they were preparing to reopen a hospital established but never used at NRG stadium on the city’s south side. The officials said they were “getting close” to reimposing stay-at-home orders.

Harris County, which encompasses Houston and adjacent suburbs, also instituted what it called a public health threat level assessment that will alert residents if conditions worsen or improve. The level remains at the second-highest on the four-tier scale, said Judge Lina Hidalgo, the highest-ranking county executive.

“We may be approaching the precipice of a disaster,” Hidalgo said. “It’s out of hand right now. The good news is it’s not severe out of hand.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican who greeted Trump upon his arrival in Dallas on Thursday, has been among the most aggressive state leaders in easing coronavirus restrictions.

Virus cases in Texas rose 2.3% to 81,583, surpassing the seven-day average of 2.2%, according to state health department figures released Thursday. Deaths climbed 1.9% to 1,920, the biggest daily increase in a week.

Hospitalizations declined for the first time since June 6, dropping 6.7% to 2,008. That came a day after the in-patient tally surged to the highest since the pandemic began.

New cases are rapidly emerging in several other states, raising concern among public-health experts that a second wave of the virus, which many expect to crest in the fall, is beginning. Arizona has also reported a recent increase in new infections.

Even so, the president has been pressing ahead with travel plans and returning to a role he relishes: political campaigner. He will head to his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, after leaving Texas. More rallies will follow the one in Tulsa, he has said.

The Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, said Trump was “returning to the campaign trail, trying to ignore reality.”

“While he may have forgotten about Covid-19, Covid-19 hasn’t forgotten about us. In more than 20 states, the level of new infections continues to rise,” Biden said in a statement on Thursday night.

The Trump campaign’s coronavirus waiver echoes efforts in the U.S. Senate to allow employers to choose which government safety guidelines to follow to be shielded from lawsuits if their customers or workers contract the virus.

Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said in an interview this week that the liability proposal – which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calls a “red line” for talks with Democrats on the next big economic stimulus bill – will likely be released next month.

Judges are wary of “overly broad” liability waivers and don’t generally enforce them when injuries result from gross negligence or recklessness, according to Catherine Sharkey, a law professor at New York University.

“A court might find that convening a large public rally where attendees are not required to wear face masks or follow social distancing guidelines constitutes gross negligence or recklessness,” Sharkey said.