GASTONIA, N.C. — Gaston County's Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is concerned about a potential spike in positive COVID-19 cases following President Donald Trump's rally at Gastonia Municipal Airport Wednesday night.
A Secret Service agent told WCNC Charlotte more than 20,000 people were at the rally while North Carolina GOP placed the final number at 28,278 people.
For context, the Spectrum Center in Charlotte holds about 20,000 people.
Gaston County spokesman Adam Gaub said local public health leaders feared an influx of cases, which would only add to a spike in cases the county is currently confronting.
"We're preparing to know that there's likely going to be positive cases coming out of that," Gaub said.
While attendees in the grandstands directly behind the president wore masks, few people beyond camera view were covering their faces.
There was almost no social distancing at the rally, and many people had to ride in shuttles to get to and from the airport.
Some shuttle rides lasted more than 15 minutes, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers to be the threshold for "close contact."
Gaston County Commissioner Chad Brown attended the rally, and he argued concerns about the rally are politically motivated.
"With some of the protesting, people aren't wearing masks, and nobody said anything about those people," Commissioner Brown said. "[It's] just for the simple fact that it was a Republican rally."
He believed people at the rally made safe choices, and he claimed many supporters wore masks.
"We hope there's not a spike, but if there is, people took personal responsibility for what happened last night," he said.
Gaub said one of the biggest reasons local public health leaders are worried is the rally occurred as Gaston County's COVID-19 metrics, including hospitalizations, continued to spike to alarming levels.
"Our health department, they're tired. Everybody is tired with COVID," Gaub said. "We've been fighting this for close to eight months now, but we're ready to do our part in terms of connecting people with the right resources."
The county recommends people who attended the rally should consult with their primary care provider.
Gaub said the county currently has a strong testing capacity, and it has the ability to expand, if necessary. Information on testing sites can be found here.
He said any impact from the rally on COVID-19 metrics could be seen in seven to 10 days.