By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
PORTSMOUTH – If Republican Gov. Chris Sununu greets President Donald Trump on Saturday, he will do it wearing a face covering, his staff said on Monday.
President Trump will hold a re-election rally in Portsmouth on Saturday at 8 p.m. and those who want to attend must sign a waiver acknowledging that they “assume all risks” of contracting COVID-19.
“As governor I will always welcome the President of the United States to New Hampshire,” Sununu said in a news release.
“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 New Hampshire where social distancing is hard to maintain. It is imperative that folks attending the rally wear masks.”
Before this event was announced, Sununu said he would not be attending any large political rallies because of the highly transmissible virus and has urged the public to wear a mask in public but has refused to make mask wearing mandatory. The virus has killed 382 New Hampshire residents.
It was just four days ago that Sununu ended the requirement for travelers to New Hampshire to attest they had self-quarantined for 14 days ahead of the trip. And the requirement is only lifted for visitors from the five other New England states.
It was unclear whether Trump will be in violation of the order. Attempts to reach Sununu’s spokesman late Monday afternoon by phone and email were not successful.
The two Democrats running in the primary to take on Sununu – state Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, and Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, D-Concord – were critical of the Trump rally.
Feltes called on Sununu to issue a public health order for the rally, adding the Portsmouth City Council is also considering a mask requirement for the event. Feltes said Trump previously held a rally in June in Tulsa, Okla., in which more than 6,000 attended and later resulted in increased COVID-19 cases.
“Given the impact of prior Trump rallies on public health, like the uptick in COVID-19 cases after Trump’s Tulsa rally, Governor Sununu should issue an order to require social distancing and masks and cancel the event if the Trump campaign will not comply. Gov. Sununu has kept the ‘state of emergency’ in place and has the authority to do this. Public health of Granite Staters should take priority over politics,” Feltes said.
Volinsky said it was three council meetings ago that he asked Sununu to issue an order requiring masks at indoor events. “Sununu said public health data does not support the effectiveness of wearing a mask. That’s not a true statement,” Volinsky said.
“I am really concerned about people standing shoulder to shoulder (whether inside or outside.) It’s too dangerous and irresponsible,” Volinsky said, suggesting Trump is holding the rally in southern New Hampshire to draw a larger crowd from Massachusetts as well.
Volinsky said he is interested to see if Sununu will stand with Trump or meet him privately.
The event will be held at Portsmouth Regional Airport at Pease, 36 Airline Ave., with the gates opening at 4 p.m. and the event set to begin at 8 p.m.
This event will be held outdoors. Attempts to reach Mayor Rick Becksted of Portsmouth Monday were unsuccessful.
In his news release, Sununu said from the outset of this pandemic, the state has not stopped or prevented individuals from peacefully assembling, including marches led by Black Lives Matter and protests from Reopen NH.
Sununu’s schedule is still being finalized, the release said.
More information about the Make America Great Again rally can be found: https://events.donaldjtrump.com/events/portsmouth-new-hampshire-rally-july-11
Those who attend, including media “assume all risks” and waive, release and discharge Donald J. Trump for President Inc., Portsmouth International Airport at Pease, and any of their affiliates….all liability under any theory, whether in negligence or otherwise, for any illness or injury.
The President was last in New Hampshire just before its first-in-the-nation Presidential Primary in February at Southern New Hampshire University Arena in Manchester. He won the Republican primary, just as he did four years earlier.
It was Trump’s first political rally after the Senate acquitted him of charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. He held another rally in New Hampshire last August at the same venue.
InDepthNH.org reporter Nancy West contributed to this report.