In at least two recent campaign events, Maine Republicans have gathered indoors without physical distancing or wearing masks, which is against clear guidance from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

The lack of regard for public health guidelines is in line with how President Trump has conducted events, downplaying the need for mask wearing and distancing. Trump and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19, it was announced Friday, reigniting a debate over whether the president has set a good example for Americans in dealing with the pandemic.

At a fundraiser Wednesday night in Saco – attended by 1st District congressional candidate Jay Allen, former Gov. Paul LePage and Maine Republican Party chairwoman Demi Kouzounas, among others – people gathered inside a renovated barn at River Winds Farm & Estate.

In photos posted by Allen on his campaign Facebook page, attendees are shown standing closely together and no masks can be seen. Saco is in York County, which has been driving the increase in COVID-19 cases in Maine over the last several weeks.

Allen, in a phone interview Friday, said he doesn’t know if there were more than 50 people or not but it wouldn’t have bothered him either way. He also said some attendees wore masks but defended his decision not to.

“My interpretation is that the risk is not that high,” said Allen, a doctor of family medicine and long-shot challenger to U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree. “I’m not exposed to the virus, that’s why I’m comfortable going around without a mask.”

Public health experts agree that widespread mask use is among the best safeguards against spreading COVID-19.

A message left at River Winds Farm & Estate was not returned Friday.

On Sept 23, the same day Donald Trump Jr. held a campaign rally for his father at Maine Military Supply in Holden, a large group of people gathered inside the Maine GOP offices in Bangor to pose for a picture with Trump Jr. In the photo, which was shared on Facebook by 2nd District congressional candidate Dale Crafts, at least 55 people can be seen packed together tightly. Crafts and Trump Jr. are in the center and former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin can be seen in the far left of the photo. No one is wearing a mask.

Maine currently has an executive order in place that prohibits indoor gatherings of more than 50 people.

Asked about the event in Bangor, Crafts blamed the media and said masks should be a personal choice.

“The liberal media has been chomping at the bit to make the coronavirus more political than it already has become,” Crafts said in a statement. “There is no denying the popularity and excitement around President Trump, and the events in Maine last week with Donald Trump, Jr. reaffirm his support in Maine.

“While I have campaigned over the past few months, my team and I have gone to great lengths to ensure that proper safety protocol is kept and encourage safety. However, each individual has their individual right and responsibility to do what they feel necessary to protect themselves. Maine people are strong, resilient and can think for themselves.”

The two Maine Republican campaign events show similarities to other rallies and events held by President Trump, who has for the last several weeks attempted to resume a normal campaign schedule even as the pandemic rages.

Things changed Friday when Trump announced that he and the first lady had been diagnosed with COVID-19, as had at least one senior staff member. Trump has repeatedly downplayed the effectiveness of masks and his staff is often seen not wearing them, even during occasions where they are strongly encouraged, such as during Tuesday’s presidential debate in Ohio.

Herman Cain, a former Republican president candidate, former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and a Trump surrogate, died from COVID-19 in late July, a little over a month after he attended a massive Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where attendees were closely grouped and many were not wearing masks, including Cain.

Even after the president tested positive, the White House said Friday masks would not be mandated and would remain a personal choice.

Allen said the president’s testing positive didn’t change his thinking at all.

“We’re all going to get this eventually,” he said, advocating for so-called herd immunity that public health experts say would likely lead to 2 million deaths or more.

Campaigning has been upended during the pandemic but Republicans have been far more likely to proceed normally. The Associated Press reported last week that Trump’s campaign and allied Republican groups have been having in-person contacts with voters since at least June.

The campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden, which has been more cautious so far, announced that it would start canvassing in some battleground states.

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