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GOP To Scale Down Republican National Convention

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Trump wanted a huge in-person nominating convention with thousands of people packed into an indoor arena - no masks, no physical distancing - just like the big televised spectacles of the past. But the pandemic is still raging. And in a letter today to Republican National Committee members, Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel made clear Trump is not going to have the convention he envisioned. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith has the details.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: President Trump wanted a traditional convention so badly that when North Carolina's Democratic governor said that given the uncertainty around coronavirus, he couldn't promise a packed arena without masks, Trump pulled up stakes and moved the convention celebration to Jacksonville, Fla.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have to know that when the people come down, they're going to have the doors open.

KEITH: But troubles with the virus followed. Coronavirus cases in Florida have spiked, setting records. And hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise now, too. In her letter, GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said adjustments are being made to comply with local health guidelines. For the first three days of the convention, only delegates will be allowed to attend. And for the big celebration of Trump's nomination, up to 7,000 could be there. That's less than half the capacity of the arena in Jacksonville, and it's about the number of people who showed up for Trump's embarrassingly underattended rally in Tulsa last month.

And even this isn't a certainty. Earlier this week, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, a Republican, had this message for city residents.

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LENNY CURRY: Please wear a mask or cloth face covering when you're in close contact with others. Try to maintain safe social distance of 6 feet or more. Wash your hands frequently. Avoid large gatherings.

KEITH: Avoid large gatherings. By any definition, this scaled-back convention would be a large gathering. The city currently has a mask mandate, and Florida's governor signed an executive order requiring all venues to operate at 50% capacity. Asked about the status of the convention, Curry was far from confident.

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CURRY: We are monitoring the situation and will plan accordingly based on hospitalizations, the community spread, et cetera.

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VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: With regard to the convention, I can tell you it's - it is a work in progress.

KEITH: That was Vice President Mike Pence on a campaign press call yesterday.

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PENCE: We'll put the health of everyone participating first.

KEITH: McDaniel said they are making plans to use outdoor venues, and there'll be on-site temperature checks, PPE, aggressive sanitizing protocols and available COVID-19 testing, though it's not clear how that would work or how long it might take for results to come back. The Democratic convention, planned for Milwaukee a week earlier, is far less in flux because the party switched to a mostly virtual model early on.

Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.