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There’s no mask mandate in NH, but some Portsmouth city officials want one ahead of Trump rally

Some Portsmouth city officials are pushing for a mask mandate over concerns of the potential spread of COVID-19 at President Trump’s rally this weekend.

“Personal politics are outside the scope of this,” Portsmouth City Councilor Deaglan McEachern said Monday. “It’s a health concern.”

McEachern is one of a handful of Portsmouth city officials who are pushing for a formal mask mandate ahead of President Donald Trump’s outdoor campaign rally at Portsmouth International Airport at Pease on Saturday.

There is no statewide mandate in New Hampshire to wear face coverings when in public settings, but McEachern said he formally requested that the Mayor hold a special meeting with the council to consider a mask requirement ahead of the President’s visit. 

“I know that calling for a mask requirement potentially adds to the political nature of the conversation around the basic guidance on protective measures,” McEachern wrote in a Facebook post. “But to me there is no politics behind masks, only science. Our community’s safety is too important for anything less.”

On Monday night, however, the Mayor denied McEachern's request to hold a special meeting of the council to discuss a mask mandate. 

"This is disappointing in light of the sacrifices we've made to control the virus and the potential for this gathering to undo our good work," he wrote in a Facebook post.

McEachern is now hoping to gather the city councilors himself and call a meeting of their own, which requires five councilors. 

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Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine, Police Commissioner Stefany Shaheen, and a handful of other city councilors support the notion, McEachern told NEWS CENTER Maine. According to Seacoast Online, Portsmouth Mayor Rick Becksted doesn’t support the idea and says the City Council has no jurisdiction over the federally-owned land where the rally is planned.

In a release, Hogan Gidley, Trump's campaign press secretary, said attendees would be provided with face masks that they would be "strongly encouraged" to wear and there would be “ample access” to hand sanitizer. Masks and social distancing aren’t required, however.

The Trump campaign laid out similar guidelines for the rally in Tulsa in June and for the Fourth of July event at Mount Rushmore. At both events, thousands were in attendance, with few wearing masks, and social distancing wasn’t practiced.

Credit: AP
Supporters watch as President Donald Trump speaks at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Friday, July 3, 2020, near Keystone, S.D. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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N.H. Gov. Chris Sununu said in a statement that he would welcome the President to his state.

“I am pleased to see the campaign will be handing out face masks and hand sanitizer to all attendees, as has been true at all public gatherings in N.H. where social distancing is hard to maintain. It is imperative that folks attending the rally wear masks.”

To register online to attend the rally, people have to sign a waiver saying they “expressly acknowledge that an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists.”

“In attending the event, you and any guests voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19, and waive, release, and discharge Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.; Portsmouth International Airport at Pease; or any of their affiliates, directors, officers, employees, agents, contractors, or volunteers from any and all liability under any theory, whether in negligence or otherwise, for any illness or injury,” the waiver says.

As of Sunday, N.H. has 5,897 total cases and 381 people have died with COVID-19. N.H. currently has a positivity rate of 1.8%.

“We’ve worked really hard to keep our numbers low and we’ve all made sacrifices,” McEachern said. “I would hate to see our efforts rolled back because of an event where the leader is not encouraging mask usage.”

Portsmouth Mayor Rick Becksted didn't immediately respond to NEWS CENTER Maine's request for comment.

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At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

NEWS CENTER Maine Coronavirus Coverage

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