GUILFORD, Maine — Dozens of workers streamed out of Puritan Medical Products for an early afternoon break Thursday, a brief respite in work weeks that can run to 70 hours at the only US company that makes the nasal swabs used for coronavirus testing.
The extra work and its economic windfall, generated by a $75.5 million contract under the Defense Production Act to help battle the virus, have reinvigorated this aging mill-town in north-central Maine.
“Everybody’s excited,” said Russell Hasting, 39, a Puritan employee.
The exclamation point will come Friday when President Trump tours the century-old company. The visit will be his latest to a manufacturing facility connected to the coronavirus fight, but will mark a rare trip for him outside Washington, D.C., since nationwide protests erupted over George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.
“It’s nice to be recognized for all the work,” said Renee Hasting, 45, Russell’s wife and a third-generation Puritan employee. “It feels good.”
The anticipation is mixed with wariness, however, as Guilford and remote Piscataquis County gird for possible protests against Trump. No one knows what to expect, and this small town of 1,500 people has never had to prepare for much unrest.
Governor Janet Mills, a Democrat, expressed safety concerns in a conference call that US governors held with Trump this week, according to media reports.
“I’m very concerned that your presence may cause security problems for our state,” she told Trump while also urging him to “abandon the divisive language that sows the seeds of distrust.”
Trump said later that Mills’s concerns about his visit might have reinforced his decision to visit the state.
“She tried to talk me out of it. Now, I think she probably talked me into it,” he said.
Either way, government helicopters are now making practice flights over the town, sheriff’s deputies and emergency response teams are discussing plans, and high school officials who will hold graduation ceremonies Friday have reportedly been speaking with the Secret Service.
“They keep saying there might be 1,000 people here, and that they might start burning stuff," said Zachary Herrick, 41, who owns an excavation company within sight of Puritan. “But you never know."
What Herrick does know is that his business has taken off since Trump was elected.
“He’s a good man, and he’s been really good for the economy. I’ve done phenomenal since Trump came into office,” Herrick said.
Guilford cast 64 percent of its votes for Trump in 2016, a margin that helped him carry the state’s Second Congressional District and a single electoral vote, although Hillary Clinton won the state overall.
The town’s support for Trump doesn’t appear to have waned much, if at all.
“I like the guy. He’s done a lot of great things. He’s bringing jobs back to the country,” said Paul Zimmerman, who owns the Red Maple Inn, which he was sprucing up with a fresh coat of paint facing the road that the presidential motorcade is expected to take.
Elsewhere, Trump reelection signs can be spotted from the road leading into town along the Piscataquis River. Herrick said he planned to put two or three Trump signs at the edge of his property before the president’s arrival. And an American flag bearing Trump’s name hung from the window at Griffin’s Clothing and Footwear.
A Griffin’s employee, standing outside the store at a crossroads, said business has been brisk for Trump paraphernalia — flags, signs, and bumper stickers. Order them from China on a Sunday, he said, and the merchandise arrives in Guilford three days later.
“You need a Trump hat!” the man, who asked not to be named, yelled to a friend driving past.
With rare exceptions, Trump received favorable reviews here Thursday. A shrug of the shoulder was a common reaction to questions about Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, his tough stance against protesters, and the forced dispersal of a peaceful demonstration outside the White House this week.
“He’s brought a lot of jobs back, he’s stuck up for America first, and he’s for the Second Amendment,” said state Senator Paul Walsh, a Republican candidate for reelection.
But some were not pleased by the presidential visit. In a Facebook post, Sue Mackey Andrews of nearby Dover-Foxcroft dismissed his planned tour of the plant as a “photo-op."
“Trump cares nothing for you or for this region, or sadly, for the very hardworking people at Puritan. This is a political circus," she wrote.
“Do you really want to be in a picture with this person? Do you really want to fulfill his dream of roiling up the masses, expanding the political divide and creating self-serving news that uses each and every one of you as foils?” she wrote.
Michael Begley, 26, also from Dover-Foxcroft, offered a mixed view of the president as he walked downtown. Recognizing Puritan’s workers is important as they work harder and longer during the pandemic, Begley said.
But Begley regrets that the Trump administration didn’t prepare for the virus earlier, and his family has been directly affected. Shutdown measures have wiped out the waffle business that his mother and stepfather started only four months ago.
“I feel that we as a nation were never told what was going to become of it, and how we should act on it,” Begley said. “And if we were told anything, a day or two later we were told something different.”
Near where Begley stood, a pickup truck pulled up, flying a Confederate flag and carrying four teenagers. One of the passengers, a 17-year-old named Austin, said he was not pleased that protesters might come to this tiny town.
“They support Black Lives Matter, but all lives matter," said Austin, who declined to give his last name. “I guess they can do their thing, but I don’t support it.”
The pickup’s driver, leaning against the passenger window, defended flying the Confederate flag through the streets of Guilford.
“It’s freedom of speech," he said. “I’m just flying it because I can."
Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at email@example.com.