The pastor of the Phoenix church hosting President Donald Trump on Tuesday claimed in a Facebook video that it has installed air purification units that can virtually eliminate the coronavirus in a matter of minutes.
“When you come into our auditorium, 99% of COVID is gone, killed - if it was there in the first place,” Luke Barnett, senior pastor of Dream City Church, says in the Facebook video, posted Sunday.
“You can know when you come here you’ll be safe and protected. Thank God for great technology and thank God for being proactive.”
Andrew Kolvet, a spokesman for the Students for Trump convention, the presenter of Tuesday’s event, said of the video: “He says ‘99%,’ so I’m OK with this. Obviously there are risks.”
By mid-afternoon Monday, the church had removed the video from its Facebook page.
Students for Trump materials warn guests of the risks:
“By attending this convention, you and any guest voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19 and agree not to hold Turning Point Action, their affiliates, Dream City Church, employees, agents, contractors, or volunteers liable for any illness or injury.”
The Students for Trump event in the 3,000-seat church doesn’t comply with Arizona or CDC guidelines that ban mass gatherings, but it does fall within 1st Amendment exemptions.
The gathering comes as Arizona battles one of the largest COVID outbreaks in the country.
Gov. Doug Ducey and Sen. Martha McSally plan to attend the event. A Ducey spokesman said the governor would be "following all guidance."
Infectious disease specialists say the air purification systems don't protect against person-to-person spread.
“Air circulation and filtration are important, but my concern is that this does not discount the direct, close-quarters exposure we worry about,” Dr. Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist affiliated with the University of Arizona, told 12 News.
“It won’t magically rid the respiratory droplets from a cough or person shouting next to you. It can help clean and recirculate air, but primary transmission is through face to face, close contact and this system is not an intervention for that.
“Moreover, I worry that people will be less incentivized to wear a mask if they think this is how the system works. Masks, and socially distancing are critical. Rallies are high risk for exposures.”
Air purification systems that claim to eliminate the coronavirus have not been endorsed yet by any governmental or industry body.
The Students for Trump organizers ask participants to wear masks, as mandated by the City of Phoenix and Maricopa County.
However, Mayor Kate Gallego says the city will not enforce the mask requirement:
“While I do not believe an event of this magnitude can be held safely, particularly as Arizona sees rising COVID cases, the President has decided to continue with this rally.
“City officials have contacted both the church and presidential campaign staff to alert them to the city’s masking policy. The goal of this policy is not to hand out citations but to educate the public on the virus and its transmission.”
In a statement to 12 News, the Arizona Department of Health Services said:
“DHS cannot confirm or validate the effectiveness of products or materials. In accordance with guidance from the CDC and EPA, ADHS recommends that disinfectants that are known to be effective against the SARS-CoV-2 virus be used for cleaning and disinfection.”
The president of the company that makes the church’s air purification system, CleanAir EXP, said via text message the company would be responding to media requests later in the day Monday.