The same week that presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden formally canceled plans to give a convention speech in Milwaukee, the Democratic National Convention Committee detected three positive cases of COVID-19 at the site.
“As testing increased this week, our system detected three cases which have been reported to the health department and given instructions to self-isolate,” an aide to the convention told The Daily Beast. The aide confirmed that those individuals tested positive.
Officials involved in convention planning say the decision to not host speeches from the site were not directly related to the positive test results there. But they did say that those tests underscored, for organizers, the risks that were inherent in hosting a convention in the midst of a pandemic.
“The reason why they told folks to not travel is we’d been talking to health officials about it. And once we got the guidance from health officials that the pandemic was getting worse, we listened to them,” said a top DNC official.
For months, organizers had held on to the possibility of Biden addressing a crowd in Wisconsin, even as they dramatically cut back plans to have a traditional convention there.
But on Wednesday, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez and convention CEO Joe Solmonese released a statement announcing the decision to go entirely virtual, citing ongoing desires to follow the same public health- and science-based standards they’ve maintained are important through the process. The joint statement said the decision was “in order to prevent risking the health of our host community as well as the convention’s production teams, security officials, community partners, media and others necessary to orchestrate the event.”
“While we wish we could move forward with welcoming the world to beautiful Milwaukee in two weeks, we recognize protecting the health of our host community and everyone involved with this convention must be paramount,” Solmonese said.
By Thursday afternoon, chatter began circulating in Democratic circles that a person working to assemble the convention site had tested positive for COVID. One knowledgeable source within the DNC said that there had been talk among some party chairs and delegates about the possible occurrence.
In order to try and pull off a convention in the middle of a pandemic, the convention planners had put in place what they called a “series of protocols designed to curb the risk of disease spread.” Among the dozen stipulations listed by the committee’s website, attendees coming from outside of Milwaukee were “encouraged” to undergo testing ahead of time and were required to present “a confirmed negative test” using the DNCC’s own system upon arrival. In addition, the guidelines stated that attendees were required to “self-isolate for a minimum of 72 hours prior to departing for Milwaukee or their first entry into the convention’s health and safety zone,” and wear a mask while traveling into the city and “at all times when outside of their hotel room or Milwaukee area residence.”
Convention participants were also required to be tested daily, remain a minimum of six feet apart from others, and fill out a survey each day that pledged they did not have symptoms or had not come in contact with anyone confirmed to have the virus.
The convention aide said they began preliminary COVID-19 testing last week, adhering to their own stated safety guidelines as cases continue to spike in some parts of the country. The aide said that they initially received two “equivocal test results” that indicated the potential presence of COVID. Subsequent testing ultimately determined that those results were false positives. It was after that, that the three confirmed positive cases surfaced.
“The protocol we put in place is working,” the convention aide said. “It’s been set up to identify cases early, before they enter the site or come into contact with people and spread widely.”