Our Opinion: Trump rally planned for New Hampshire raises alarm

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"In attending the event, you and any guests voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19 ..."

That's part of the disclaimer found at the bottom of the ticket registration for a recently announced rally President Donald Trump is set to hold Saturday in Portsmouth, N.H. What's far from voluntary, however, is the inherent risk that a large-scale political gathering imposes on a region where communities have taken great pains to combat the coronavirus.

If Trump's recent campaign events are any indication, that risk could be sizable.

The Northeast was host to many of the initial hot spots in the U.S. Massachusetts, like its neighbors, has endured tremendous turmoil in its attempt to curb the coronavirus, with many communities forced to rend the very fabric of daily life. In the Berkshires, the unprecedented cancellation of Tanglewood's season aptly sums up the shared trauma — a summer of cultural outings solemnly quieted, with resultant hardship for countless workers made jobless and small businesses left struggling.

It has been a painful but necessary gauntlet of restriction and discipline in an attempt to protect our most vulnerable neighbors. Now, the state is seeing a pinhole of light at the end of the tunnel, with COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations trending downward. A modicum of normalcy has returned as the steady road to reopening this week entered Phase 3 of 4.

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Given all this, the notion of a campaign rally in a location likely to attract travelers from all corners of New England is an alarming one. Portsmouth, N.H., is fewer than 20 miles from Massachusetts. Trump's regional core can safely assume there won't be many other rallies in the area before November. All of this is a recipe for rallygoers to crisscross the Northeast this weekend — many likely traveling through Massachusetts.

This makes it all the more critical for the Trump campaign to improve upon its lackluster event safety standards ahead of Saturday's rally at Portsmouth International Airport at Pease. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu rightly emphasized this point Monday, saying "... as has been true at all public gatherings in NH where social distancing is hard to maintain, it is imperative that folks attending the rally wear masks." In its announcement, the Trump campaign noted "there will be ample access to hand sanitizer and all attendees will be provided a face mask that they are strongly encouraged to wear." This is a good start, but it would behoove the campaign to follow the governor's suit and upgrade instructions on face masks from "strongly encouraged" to "imperative."

At Trump's last three rallies in Oklahoma, Arizona and South Dakota, safety guidelines with regard to physical distancing and mask-wearing went unheeded. What's worse, Trump campaign workers at the Tulsa event appeared to actively flout the venue's distancing protocols by removing "Do not sit here, please" stickers that were placed on every other seat by Bank of Oklahoma Center staff.

Unless this disregard for basic precautions is corrected, it would be unconscionable to bring a large gathering to a region that has toiled greatly to bend the curve of a pandemic that has killed 130,000 Americans and counting.

Some will dismiss this as purely political invective. It is not. Regardless of party or politics, it is simply unethical for any candidate to bring unnecessary risk to communities that have sacrificed so much against this invisible viral enemy.


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