On Sunday afternoon, a Republican candidate for the state House ventured from her home in Ellsworth to attend President Donald Trump’s impromptu rally at an orchard near Bangor, where she took pictures with prominent politicians in which nobody is wearing a mask or maintaining social distance.

A photograph posted on Instagram by rallygoer Michelle Kaplan shows her posing with congressional candidates Dale Crafts, seated, and Jay Allen, right; and former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, in a red jacket. Instagram photo

Then Michelle Kaplan, a physician assistant in the emergency department at Mount Desert Island Hospital in Bar Harbor, posted a couple of the pictures on Instagram and went to work, filling in on a short-staff shift even though she was on vacation.

She had no inkling that she would soon be in the middle of a firestorm, a symbol of anti-maskers.

Spotting her pictures on social media, critics of GOP stalwarts who rarely don a mask, including some of the men she posed with, singled Kaplan out as a target for their wrath.

They called the hospital demanding it take action. They posted harsh commentary about her online. In short, Kaplan found herself in the spotlight, shamed for supposedly endangering patients and her community.

But Kaplan, who is running in the 132nd District against an incumbent Democrat, is not an anti-masker.

She said Wednesday she wore a hospital grade N95 mask to the Trump event at Treworgy Family Orchards in Levant, expecting it to be small and relatively safe.

Kaplan said she was surprised how many people showed up but didn’t worry about it much because she had a front row spot thanks to her candidacy, hand sanitizer in her pocket that she didn’t hesitate to use and a good mask that she left on.

The problem, for her, is that she had a chance to take a picture of herself with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and two Republican congressional candidates, Dale Crafts and Jay Allen. None of the men wore masks.

She said she decided to pull hers down for the photograph, taken by a friendly Secret Service agent, twisting herself around for the shot so that she wasn’t facing anyone close and not breathing anything in until she could get her mask back on.

Kaplan said she probably had it off for 29 seconds in all and doesn’t feel like she took any risk.

She said she’s a firm believer in masks. She even made a snowman last March with a mask and a sign urging others to wear one, too, until the snowman became a puddle.

Kaplan said that when she goes around town in Ellsworth, she wears a mask. At a dog costume show not too long ago, she said, she was only one there with a mask on.

“I believe in science,” she said.

Michelle Kaplan of Ellsworth, a candidate for the Maine House of Representatives, stands behind White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, right, at a Trump rally Sunday in Levant in a picture she posted on Instagram. Also pictured are congressional candidates Jay Allen, left, and Dale Crafts of Lisbon, center. Instagram photo

But when people saw the pictures, they didn’t really know anything about her. To them, Kaplan was just another face without a mask, a woman seemingly so callous about it that she went straight from the rally to the emergency room to log a long shift with sick people.

State Rep. Genevieve McDonald, a Stonington Democrat, said their unwillingness to wear face coverings at a crowded event “shows complete disregard for the health and safety of Maine people.”

“Each one of them deserves to hear from voters who do not want their hope for a return to normalcy destroyed for a photo-op,” she said.

Art Blank, the hospital president, confirmed Wednesday that Kaplan worked a shift that Sunday night “and is currently in quarantine” but insisted he could not discuss personnel matters beyond that.

Oka Hutchins, a hospital spokesperson, said that when an employee disregards the rules about masks and distancing, they are required to quarantine at home and learn the regulations they must follow.

Kaplan said she was “voluntarily self-quarantining” for two weeks “out of an abundance of caution because there were so many people there” at the rally.

“It was, like, a mutually agreed upon thing,” Kaplan said, because nobody wanted to put anyone in danger, including her. “It’s not like I’ve been kicked out of work,” she added.

She said, “If I display any symptoms whatsoever I will be sure to get tested.”

McDonald sent a note to Blank on Wednesday thanking him for taking “swift action to assure that Michelle Kaplan would quarantine and no longer put your staff or patients at risk.”

She said she was tempted to call for Kaplan’s dismissal over her “irresponsible behavior” but held back because she respected his decision-making.

Blank said the hospital “is fully committed to ensuring a safe environment for our patients and staff.”

Kaplan said she is, too.

To thwart the spread of COVID-19, Maine requires people to wear face coverings in public places when physical distancing is difficult to maintain, which was the case when Trump briefly visited the orchard near Bangor.

Another GOP state House candidate can be seen just behind the congressional candidates and Kaplan in one of the photographs she posted on Instagram: Jessica Connor, who seeks a seat in the 98th District representing Searsport, Winterport, Swanville and Frankfort. Connor could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Suit Up Maine, a progressive grass-roots group, said in a statement issued Wednesday that Maine’s strong public health guidelines have kept the state’s infection rates among the lowest in the nation, allowing businesses and schools to reopen.

“Flagrantly violating those guidelines for a political rally not only puts all of that at risk, it’s also a thumb in the eye to every Mainer who has sacrificed so much and worked so hard to keep their communities safe and open,” it said.

“There was a way to hold this event safely. They could have capped attendance at 100. They could have required masks. But they didn’t. And now we very well may have a full-blown super-spreader event on our hands. It’s utterly irresponsible,” the group said.

It said that when Republican candidates ignore basic science by refusing to wear masks “it truly makes us sick to our stomachs.”

“So little is required of us to keep each other safe: Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Don’t gather in large crowds. Our kids do it every day at school, so why can’t these Republican candidates? It’s not rocket science. It’s just science,” the group said.

Kaplan is seeking to unseat Democrat Nicole Grohoski in the 132nd District in Tuesday’s election.

She’s not sure she’s even going to be able to vote given the time it takes to request and return an absentee ballot.

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