KENOSHA, Wis. — President Donald Trump charged into the latest eruption in the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice on Tuesday, blaming “domestic terror” that he said fueled the violence in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and declaring it was enabled by Democratic leaders.
While Trump declared the violence “anti-American,” he offered no words for the underlying cause of the anger and protests — accusations of police violence against Black men — and did not mention Jacob Blake, who was badly wounded last week in Kenosha.
Soon after arriving in the city, a visit made over the objections of state and local leaders, Trump toured the charred remains of a block besieged by violence and fire. With the scent of smoke still in the air, he spoke to the owners of a century-old store that had been destroyed and continued to link the violence to the Democrats, blaming those in charge of Kenosha and Wisconsin while raising apocalyptic warnings if their party should capture the White House.
“These are not acts of peaceful protest but, really, domestic terror,” said Trump. And he condemned Democrats for not immediately accepting his offer of federal assistance, claiming “They just don’t want us to come, These governors don’t want to call, and the mayors don’t want to call. They have to ask.”
The city has been riven by protests since the Aug. 23 shooting of Blake, who was hit seven times in the back by police as he was getting into a car while they were trying to arrest him. Protests have been concentrated in a small area of Kenosha, and while there were more than 30 fires set in the first three nights, the situation has calmed since then.
Trump’s motorcade passed throngs of demonstrators, some holding American flags in support of the president, others jeering while carrying signs that read Black Lives Matter. A massive police presence, complete with several armored vehicles, secured the area, and barricades were set up along several of the city’s major thoroughfares to keep onlookers at a distance from the passing presidential vehicles.
Offering federal resources to help rebuild the city, Trump toured a high school that had been transformed into a law enforcement command post. He said he tried to call the Blake’s mother but opted against it after the family asked that a lawyer listen in.
He later added he felt “terribly” for anyone who suffered a loss, but otherwise only noted that the situation was “complicated” and “under investigation.” The only words acknowledging the suffering of African Americans came from a pastor who attended the law enforcement roundtable.
Pressed by reporters, Trump repeatedly pivoted away from assessing any sort of structural racism in the nation or its police departments, instead blasting what he saw as anti-police rhetoric. Painting a dark portrait of parts of the nation he leads, the president again linked the radical forces he blamed for the violence to the Democrats and their presidential nominee, Joe Biden, declaring that chaos could soon descend on other cities across America.
Trump condemned unrest in Portland, Oregon, too — as well as an increase in shootings in cities including Chicago and New York — and tried to take credit for stopping the violence in Kenosha with the National Guard. But it was Wisconsin’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers, who deployed the Guard to quell demonstrations in response to the Blake shooting, and he had pleaded with Trump to stay away for fear of straining tensions further.
“I am concerned your presence will only hinder our healing,” Evers wrote in a letter to Trump. “I am concerned your presence will only delay our work to overcome division and move forward together.”
Biden has assailed Trump as an instigator of the deadly protests that have sprung up on his watch. On the eve of his visit, Trump defended a teenager accused of fatally shooting two men at a demonstration in Kenosha last week though he did not mention the young man Tuesday.
Claiming the mantle of the “law and order” Republican candidate, Trump insists that he, not Biden, is the leader best positioned to keep Americans safe. He said his appearance in Kenosha would “increase enthusiasm” in Wisconsin, perhaps the most hotly contested battleground state in the presidential race.
Blake’s family held a Tuesday “community celebration” at a distance from Trump’s visit.
“We don’t need more pain and division from a president set on advancing his campaign at the expense of our city,” Justin Blake, an uncle, said in a statement. “We need justice and relief for our vibrant community.”
The NAACP said Tuesday neither candidate should visit the Wisconsin city as tension simmers. Biden’s team has considered a visit to Kenosha and has indicated that a trip to Wisconsin was imminent but has not offered details.
Trump and his campaign team have seized upon the unrest in Kenosha, as well as in Portland, where a Trump supporter was shot and killed, leaning hard into a defense of law and order while suggesting that Biden is beholden to extremists.
Trump aides believe that tough-on-crime stance will help him with voters and that the more the national discourse is about anything other than the coronavirus, the better it is for the president.
Protests in Kenosha began the night of Blake’s shooting, Aug. 23 and were concentrated in the blocks around the county courthouse downtown. There was an estimated $2 million in damage to city property, and Kenosha’s mayor has said he is seeking $30 million from the state to help rebuild.
The violence reached its peak the night of Aug. 25, two days after Blake was shot, when police said the 17-year-old armed with an illegal semi-automatic rifle shot and killed two protesters in the streets. Since then marches organized both by backers of police and Blake’s family have all been peaceful with no vandalism or destruction to public property.
Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday that Virginia will not heed the federal government’s call to send teachers exposed to the coronavirus back to classrooms, or its directive to stop testing everyone who’s been in close contact with an infected person.
“Two weeks ago, the Trump administration reclassified teachers as critical infrastructure workers. This means they could be expected to continue working even if they were exposed to COVID-19. And that’s the wrong thing to do,” Northam said during a news briefing. “Virginia is taking a different approach. If you are a teacher and there is a high chance you have been exposed to COVID-19, you should get tested and stay home until you get the result even if you don’t have symptoms.”
The Trump administration has pushed for schools to restart and for teachers and students to be in the classroom. Reclassifying teachers as critical infrastructure workers would mean they would be considered the same as essential health care workers, who can continue to work after exposure to the virus if they don’t have symptoms and if keeping them off the job poses a greater harm by having no one to care for patients.
Northam also bucked the Trump administration on new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that says not all people exposed to the virus should be tested.
“Let me be clear, despite recent changes in the CDC guidelines, Virginia will continue to encourage those who need testing to get it,” he said. “If you have symptoms, you think you’ve been exposed or you need a test to go back to work, you should consult your physician. Period. Again, if you need a test, please get a test.”
Northam began his briefing by running through coronavirus data for each of the state’s health regions. The virus is holding steady in much of the state, except for the Southwestern region, which has gone from about 80 new cases a day a month ago to 220 new daily cases now.
“The cases there unfortunately are trending up,” Northam said. “This is especially concerning in a region where there are fewer hospitals with critical-care capabilities.”
The Southwestern region is large geographically and includes the Central Virginia Health District and all localities to the west. Its rate of new cases is about the same as heavily populated Northern Virginia.
When Northam finished presenting all of the regions’ numbers, he said, “I hope you are encouraged by these numbers. I know that I am. The reality is that the virus is still alive and well around the commonwealth.”
When asked to address additional measures his administration could take to help out with hot spots in Southwest Virginia, Northam said, “We are paying particular attention and enforcing the guidelines we have put forward and so visits are being made to restaurants, bars, etc.”
Radford went from 69 cases Aug. 18 to 467 on Tuesday. Most of them are attributed to students. Montgomery County has also seen nearly 200 new cases in the past two weeks since the return of Virginia Tech students.
Different stories are playing out in the region.
On Tuesday, the Mount Rogers Health District reported multiple outbreaks in houses of worship, with one church recording more than 40 cases.
“We value our faith communities and the support and encouragement they provide during these trying times,” Dr. Karen Shelton, director of the health district, said in a news release. “We want these communities to continue to be able to provide these important services, and implore both faith leaders and congregants to take steps to keep themselves and their communities safe.”
She said that faith communities should hold gatherings outside, maintain 6 feet of distancing and increase the distance to 10 feet if there is singing or shouting. All should wear face coverings, wash their hands and avoid passing objects between members.
The far Southwest Virginia coal counties have experienced a surge in cases that are tied to those in northeastern Tennessee.
The large increase in the number of people needing hospitalization prompted Ballad Health, the predominant health system in the region, to ask its Tennessee counties to adopt mask mandates. Case counts have since slowed.
Ballad has also shifted services among its hospitals and created more COVID-19 units to care for the uptick in seriously ill patients. On Tuesday, Ballad had 100 patients with confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 22 of them in the intensive care unit and 14 on ventilators.
In the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts, cases are trending downward, with between 100 and 150 new cases a week, Dr. Thomas Kerkering, a member of the districts’ communicable disease response team, said during a news conference Tuesday.
Just 13 COVID-19 patients were being cared for at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, LewisGale Medical Center and the Salem VA Medical Center.
He expects an uptick with the opening of schools, the return of college students and the Labor Day weekend. Most of the recent cases have been mild and in young people.
“We will see a number of new cases, and an increase in cases. Then we will have to sort that out through the disease investigation and contact tracing as to what was responsible, schools or vacation. But I would expect to see a bit higher number next week but there are two reasons behind it.”
The problem is when the disease moves into older, more vulnerable people.
Galax and Carroll counties have had deadly outbreaks in nursing homes, and the disease has spread through large families.
After reporting more than 500 active coronavirus cases less than a week after in-person classes started, James Madison University on Tuesday announced it would shift to primarily online courses and ask students to leave campus by Sept. 7.
“After consultation with the Virginia Department of Health, James Madison University will transition to primarily online learning, with some hybrid instruction for accreditation and licensure requirements, graduate research, and specialized upper-class courses requiring equipment and space, through the month of September,” University president Jonathan Alger said in a message on the school’s website Tuesday. “Over the next month, university officials will carefully monitor health trends and other developments, and will be in touch with the campus community by Sept. 25 regarding the possibility of returning to in-person instruction on or after October 5.”
The school becomes the first in the state to retreat from in-person classes after trying them to start the semester, although some licensure, graduate and upper-level course work will continue to meet through the end of the month.
The number of total positive cases skyrocketed after students moved in Aug. 21 and classes began Aug. 26. The day before classes began, the university released a publicly available COVID-19 dashboard reporting 23 self-reported student cases and six faculty.
On Tuesday, the school reported 513 active cases and 528 total, the most of any college in the state. Across Virginia, colleges had reported more than 1,400 coronavirus cases as of Tuesday.
The school, which has an enrollment of 19,943 undergraduate students, reported that 64 of its 143 isolation beds were being used.
“As a result of a rapid increase in the number of positive cases of COVID-19 in our student population in a short period of time, the university is concerned about capacity in the number of isolation and quarantine spaces we can provide,” Alger said. “Protecting the health of our Harrisonburg and Rockingham County community — including students, faculty, staff — is our top priority, and we need to act swiftly to stop the spread as best we can.”
A daily case count shows that three of the highest daily positive student test totals through the school’s health center were recorded since Friday — 37 on Friday, 36 on Saturday and 30 on Sunday.
The school reported highest daily rise in self-reported student cases on Tuesday: 120.
JMU didn’t require students to be screened for COVID-19 before returning to campus like some schools in the state.
Radford’s positive COVID-19 results have risen exponentially over the last week, but the city’s cases are starting to plateau, according to the director of the New River Valley Health Department.
Dr. Noelle Bissell told reporters in a conference call Tuesday afternoon that while the cases had nearly tripled from 166 a week ago to 467 as of Tuesday — according to state numbers — the city should start to see numbers drop in the near future.
“We also aren’t seeing the community’s most vulnerable populations affected by the numbers coming from the university,” Bissell said, while estimating that the Radford University’s students account for approximately 98% of the city’s cases and about 95% of Montgomery County’s cases can be attributed to Virginia Tech students.
Bissell said, for the most part, the student populations at both schools have been diligent in following the guidelines set by both institutions, and their contact with the broader community has been minimal.
“Students are out and about in the community but are oftentimes on different schedules and not eating at restaurants or visiting stores at the same times as most of the rest of the community,” she said.
Bissell estimated the district as a whole is seeing about 80 to 100 positive cases per day. She said the public should expect a “pretty big jump” Wednesday in state data, only because there is a lag time between when cases first emerge, the contact-tracing process, and when case data is logged in the system.
She said the 68 cases in Radford reported Tuesday reflect “cases that we’ve investigated probably over the past 96 hours.”
District-wide, staff have been able to reach a standard goal of starting case investigations within 24 hours of receiving a report of a positive case, which can come from Virginia Tech’s testing lab, Radford University’s third-party PathGroup or other testing entities such as CVS and LabCorp.
Public health officials are not seeing major illnesses from COVID-19.
“The students that we are seeing, they have minimal symptoms, to minor cold-flu like symptoms. They are better within a couple of days,” she said. “We are not seeing students getting really sick with this.”
Radford University expanded its COVID-19 Dashboard Tuesday to include more specific data than it previously had, and President Brian Hemphill wrote in a campus email that he was pleased with the news Bissell had given the university in regards to cases dropping soon. The school’s dashboard reported 195 new cases for students over the last week, according to data from the school’s student health center between Aug. 25-30.
Hemphill shared a message from Bissell in his message to the university community.
“Dr. Bissell recently shared, ‘Radford University has been the model of how to manage the return of students to campus during this pandemic. Together, we have weathered the storm. We are through the worst of it. What has happened is exactly what we predicted, and there have been no signs of community transmission,’” Hemphill wrote.
Bissell said at Tuesday’s phone conference that in many ways colleges in the area have handled the pandemic better than the country has as a whole.
As of Tuesday, the United States leads the world with almost 6.1 million positive cases, with Brazil sitting in a distant second at just under four million positive tests, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. also leads the world in deaths at more than 184,000, almost three times as many as India, a country with more than four times the population.
Bissell said she believes the discrepancy between the U.S. and much of the rest of the developed world can be attributed to a variety of factors, including the political division in the U.S. and an aversion by some people to doing even the simplest of things like wearing a mask and socially distancing.
“We are at a place in this country where so many times it is me, me, me,” she said. “Some people are just over it, but you can’t just be over it.”
Bissell said that while things should start to slow down, that will only be the case if the majority of students continues to follow the gathering limits and stay within their “small circles,” while following other health guidelines.
Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday during his news briefing that he talks almost daily with many college and university presidents, and is concerned about the numbers of positive cases in students.
“We expect our colleges and universities to continue to follow their plans and also to work with the local health districts,” Northam said. “As long as we see that continue to happen then I think we can proceed. But if it’s not, I certainly have the opportunity to intervene and make changes.”
He said his administration has set specific guidelines and he expects the colleges to follow their plans that were approved by the State Council of Higher Education.
“We really want our scholars to be back on campuses. We really want them to be in the classroom, but we need to do it safely and responsibly,” he said.
Staff writer Luanne Rife contributed to this report.