RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina Republican Party canceled its annual in-person convention on Tuesday, citing the state health director, who warned such a high-risk gathering for spreading COVID-19 could puts lots of delegates in the hospital.
The convention was originally set for May in Greenville, but GOP officials delayed the event until the second week of July, citing the coronavirus outbreak. Now they’ll hold a virtual-only convention to choose delegates to the Republican National Convention, elect party leaders and complete other business, state party Chairman Michael Whatley said.
The cancellation marks the second blow to the state party during June.
Earlier in the month, Republican National Committee leaders said most of the national convention would be moved out of Charlotte. President Donald Trump wanted assurances from state officials that he could have a full arena for his nomination acceptance speech without face coverings. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper said those conditions likely would be impossible given the pandemic’s reach in the state. Trump is now accepting the nomination in Jacksonville, Florida.
Whatley put the blame for the disintegration of the state convention upon Cooper and his administration. He said the party had agreed to limit attendance at the Greenville Convention Center to less than 25 percent of capacity, require masks and take other precautions to protect delegates and others.
But state health director Betsey Tilson recommended to a party attorney this week not to hold the in-person event, especially given the recent increases in the numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. These trends led Cooper last week not to loosen business and assembly restrictions until at least July 17.
“The risk of this event could result in a large number of cases and severely ill people requiring hospitalizations and could jeopardize our ability to move forward in easing restrictions.” Tilson wrote Monday.
In an open letter to Republicans, Whatley wrote that “we are deeply disappointed that Gov. Cooper and his team have made it impossible for us to move forward with a physical convention.”
Here is the full open letter;
"We cannot overstate the importance of our State Convention to the North Carolina Republican Party. More than just a formality or requirement of our Plan of Organization, our annual Convention is a critical event where our delegates and guests gather to elect our leaders, raise money for the Party, network, hear from local, state and federal Republican Candidates and conduct official Party business. It has been an integral part of the NCGOP throughout our 150-year history.
Given the events of this year related to the spread of COVID-19, we have worked extremely hard to find a way to host a stellar Convention in Greenville while complying with federal, state, and local regulations and guidelines for hosting major events. We have moved the date of the Convention twice in conjunction with Governor Cooper’s Executive Orders, compressed our schedule and worked with medical and public health experts, as well as the staff at the Greenville Convention Center, our host hotels and our vendors to develop a plan for hosting a safe gathering.
Unfortunately, we were very disappointed to receive a letter last evening from Dr. Betsey Tilsen, Governor Cooper's state health director, and chief medical officer, stating her opposition to the NCGOP moving forward with a physical Convention. Despite acknowledging the fact that the NCGOP proposed to limit attendance in the Greenville Convention Center to less than 25 percent of the venue’s capacity, require face masks to be worn at all times, have over half of the delegates to the Convention participate virtually and take dozens of other steps to comply with CDC Guidelines, state regulations and suggestions from health experts to reduce health risks, Dr. Tilsen stated the Convention "could result in a large number of cases and severely ill people requiring hospitalizations and could jeopardize our ability to move forward in easing restrictions."
After discussing Dr. Tilsen’s letter and the Governor’s extension of his Phase 2 lockdown with our legal team and the Greenville Convention Center, I and the other members of our Convention Committee have come to the unfortunate conclusion that we must cancel the in-person portion of our Convention.
In order to meet our deadline to elect Delegates and Alternates to the RNC Convention, as well as hold leadership elections and conduct other party business, we will be moving forward with our Convention as a virtual event, as we did with our District Conventions. Over the next few days, we will be communicating with the Delegates to the State Convention about the process for participating.
We are deeply disappointed that Governor Cooper and his team have made it impossible for us to move forward with a physical Convention, despite the fact that we have been willing to follow all state regulations, CDC Guidelines and suggestions from medical experts for hosting a safe event. We are grateful for the support of the Greenville Convention Center, our Host Hotels, and our vendors, who have been remarkable partners as we have tried to host our event in Greenville and look forward to working with them on future opportunities to host events for the Party."
Tilson had offered ways to modify the event to decrease the risk of transmission because “you insist you will proceed with the event.” Those recommendations would have capped business sessions to about 150 people and meals to 65 people, she wrote. The state GOP had once expected 1,250 people to attend a full convention, according to her letter.
The North Carolina Democratic Party held a virtual state convention in early June.