U.S. President Donald Trump is demanding Pennsylvania get back to normal business operations at a time the state is seeing a spike in coronavirus cases.
“What the hell is happening in Pennsylvania?” Trump asked the crowd at his Tuesday evening campaign rally at Erie International Airport, in the western part of the crucial swing state for the November 3 general election.
Expressing frustration with pandemic restrictions imposed by Governor Tom Wolf, a member of the Democratic Party, the president said “Pennsylvania has been shut down long enough. Get your governor to open up Pennsylvania.”
Wolfe issued a renewed plea on Monday to Pennsylvanians to work together to stop the spread of the virus.
Every part of the state is seeing community spread of COVID-19, partly due to “relatively small gatherings of families and friends,” said Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s top health official.
The number of people hospitalized from COVID-19 in the state has doubled in the past four weeks, but it is still more than three times lower than at its peak in late April.
Trump, along with Vice President Mike Pence, has been making frequent campaign appearances in the state, seen as critical for their re-election chances in two weeks.
Wolf has criticized the Trump campaign for holding “unsafe rallies that will put Pennsylvania communities at risk” of COVID-19 outbreaks.
A letter signed by more than 75 physicians in Pennsylvania urged people not to attend Tuesday’s rally, saying such campaign events endanger public health and give a false impression that the coronavirus is “no longer with us.”
Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden, a native of Pennsylvania, has also frequently been in the state but has followed social-distancing guidelines, minimizing the number of attendees and requiring all in attendance to wear masks.
Former President Barack Obama is to campaign for his former vice president in Philadelphia on Wednesday at what is being called a “drive-in rally.”
Polls taken in Pennsylvania this month show Biden leading Trump by just a few points and the race further narrowing.
Trump acknowledged to the tightly packed crowd of thousands in Erie that he had not expected to have to campaign in their city this year.
“I have to be honest. There was no way I was coming,” said the president. “And then we got hit with the plague and I had to go back to work.”
During his 56-minute speech in Erie, the president said the U.S. government is “crushing the virus,” the country is doing much better than Europe, and the pandemic “is ending.”
Biden did not make any campaign appearances on Tuesday, remaining in Wilmington, Delaware, where he was said to be preparing for Thursday evening’s second debate with Trump, which is to take place in Nashville, Tennessee.
Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes, out of the 270 needed to capture the presidency, is a crucial prize. In 2016, Trump edged Hillary Clinton by only 45,000 popular votes in the state with the help of white, working-class voters in Erie, who had long been loyal to the Democrats.
First lady Melania Trump had been scheduled to join her husband on stage in Erie on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, her office announced she was canceling her appearance due to a lingering cough following her coronavirus infection.
President Trump spent three days in the hospital being treated for COVID-19. He has declared himself cured and now immune to the virus that has killed more than 220,000 people in the United States.
Surveys show his administration’s handling of the pandemic has hurt him among voters. According to a New York Times/Sienna poll released Tuesday, Biden is favored over Trump to lead on the coronavirus pandemic by 12 points.
Biden has repeatedly accused the president of deliberately downplaying the deadliness of the disease, calling Trump’s behavior “close to criminal.”