Increased virus precautions for upcoming meeting of officials with La's Republican Party
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Plans for the 230-member governing body of Louisiana’s Republican Party to hold an in-person meeting Saturday at a church have drawn concerns about whether the space offers enough protections from a coronavirus outbreak.
The meeting of the Republican State Central Committee, to be held at a Baptist church in Baton Rouge, includes elections for party leadership.
GOP officials say seats will be blocked off to provide social distancing and masks will be required. But it does not appear the party will provide any mask enforcement effort even through Louisiana’s Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, has enacted a statewide face covering mandate.
Eddie Rispone, a committee member from Baton Rouge who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2019, raised worries about the COVID-19 procedures that will be used for the meeting. He sent an email to central committee members saying the Baptist Church has a capacity for 600 people.
“This is far less than the guidelines allow for a meeting with the size of our membership and staff,” Rispone wrote, questioning why a larger hotel was not used for safety.
He added: “We should be taking every reasonable precaution to protect our membership, this meeting is far too important to have less than full attendance.”
Rispone had planned to challenge GOP Chairman Louis Gurvich for the party chairmanship and has criticized his leadership, but later dropped the campaign. Instead, state Rep. Lance Harris of Alexandria is running against Gurvich for the job.
After Rispone sent the email, party officials posted the agenda for Saturday’s meeting and included a portion titled “COVID-19 Arrangements.”
The agenda said the church’s main auditorium will have some blocked seats to help with social distancing, that Republican Party staff will be masked and wiping down surfaces and that masks and hand sanitizer will be provided to anyone interested. An overflow area also will be available with a livestream of the meeting for those who want more distance, it said.
The agenda also says the section on the far left of the auditorium “is reserved for members who wish to wear a mask for the entire meeting and who want others seated in their section to also wear masks.”
When questioned about the masked section of the auditorium, Republican Party Executive Director Brittney Reed, Gurvich’s top ministerial aide, said in an email that the party gathering will require masks “except for anyone exempted under state and local guidelines.”
She said anyone with a medical exemption from mask-wearing, as allowed under Edwards’ coronavirus restrictions, will be asked not to sit in the “mask-only” section.”
But when asked if people who refuse to wear a mask will have to cite a specific exemption to enter, Reed replied: “I would feel uncomfortable interrogating anyone about a personal health issue.”
Several Republican party leaders have been seen mask-less at other events, such as the recent Electoral College vote held in the Louisiana Senate chamber, where Gurvich did not wear a face covering.
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