Kimberly Guilfoyle, a Trump campaign fundraiser who is dating Donald Trump Jr., tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, ahead of the president’s Independence Day celebration Friday night at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota, a person familiar with the situation said.
Guilfoyle had not arrived at the event and was not in contact with President Donald Trump, and Don. Jr. tested negative, said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss their personal situation. Guilfoyle and Don Jr. were not seen in television footage of the president joined by aides, son Eric and daughter Tiffany, and they are planning to drive back to Washington to avoid contact with others, the person said.
The New York Times first reported Guilfoyle’s positive test Friday evening.
The news came amid concerns from medical experts about the president’s event before a crowd of several thousand supporters, most not wearing masks and seated close together, at the foot of the famous monument featuring the images of four U.S. president carved into granite. Some experts cautioned that the event could present conditions in which the coronavirus could spread, although it was taking place outdoors, where risks are mitigated to a degree.
Trump hoped the official event that plays to themes of patriotism at a time he has denounced protesters for racial justice who have defaced and torn down statues of historical figures, including some Confederate leaders and former U.S. presidents, would bolster his flagging public approval ratings.
Yet the news of Guilfoyle’s positive test could set back his efforts. The president’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., two weeks ago, the first after a months-long hiatus amid widespread coronavirus shutdowns, was marred when several campaign staffers and Secret Service agents contracted COVID-19.
Trump arrived in South Dakota just as sheriffs and the National Guard cleared dozens of demonstrators blocking a key artery leading to the site.
The mostly Native American demonstrators, protesting the taking of land from the Lakota people, gathered hours before Air Force One arrived in the state. They chanted, held signs and sang songs as members of the National Guard and local authorities dispersed the crowd using pepper spray, according to The Associated Press. Police also towed three vans that blocked the road.
Air Force One landed at Ellsworth Air Force Base at 6:40 p.m. in South Dakota, about a few minutes after the airplane banked over Mount Rushmore and the Trump supporters assembled below.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, confirmed this week that social distancing would not be enforced and that attendees would not be required to wear masks.
“We will have a large event on July 3. 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,” Noem said Monday in an interview on Fox News. “We’re asking them to come — be ready to celebrate, to enjoy the freedoms and the liberties that we have in this country.”
The Mount Rushmore event is just the beginning of Trump’s planned Fourth of July weekend celebrations. On Saturday, the president is expected to watch military displays and the annual fireworks show from the White House, and he is also expected to give an address. Before heading to South Dakota, Trump spent several hours Friday golfing at his private club in Sterling, Va.
While the governor and the president are billing the event as a celebration, some see it as an insult. Trump is expected to be met by protests organized by Native American leaders, who have criticized the president’s use of the memorial, which they say was built on sacred tribal land, as well as the risk the event poses to the environment and to public health.
“The whole Black Hills is sacred. For them to come and carve the presidents, slave owners who have no meaning to us, it was an insult,” Ricky Gray Grass, a member of the Oglala Sioux’s executive council, told The Washington Post earlier this week.
The tribes also warn that Trump’s push for fireworks at the event, which have been banned at the site for more than a decade, could result in wildfires and contaminate the water in the surrounding Black Hills. And they have voiced serious concern that a massive gathering without any safety restrictions could cause a coronavirus outbreak in their communities.
Trump, who has faced criticism from lawmakers in both parties for his refusal to wear a mask in public and reluctance to encourage Americans to do so, maintains that the surge of new cases is a result of increased testing capacity and that the virus will soon “disappear.”
“There is a rise in Coronavirus cases because our testing is so massive and so good, far bigger and better than any other country,” Trump tweeted late Thursday. “This is great news, but even better news is that death, and the death rate, is DOWN. Also, younger people, who get better much easier and faster!”
Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease doctor, and other public health officials have repeatedly warned that without social distancing and other precautions like masks, the coronavirus will spread out of control.
At Trump’s first campaign rally since the nation effectively shut down, held June 20 in Tulsa, neither social distancing nor mask use was required. Ahead of the event, several advance staffers tested positive for the coronavirus, forcing dozens of Secret Service officers and agents to self-quarantine because of the risk of exposure. This week, Vice President Pence postponed a trip to Arizona by a day after several Secret Service agents tested positive or showed symptoms of the coronavirus.
Ahead of Trump’s visit to the monument, the Mississippi flag was removed from an area of the site where all 50 states’ and U.S. territories’ flags fly. The state’s legislature voted this week to remove the Confederate symbol from its flag and thus the Mississippi flagpole will be empty.