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Some in Portsmouth, N.H., fear Trump rally will bring the ‘Superspreader in Chief’

Portsmouth is preparing for President Trump's arrival Saturday.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Lucy Bloomfield was engaging in a particular kind of panic shopping on Thursday afternoon, preparing not for a natural disaster or an illness but instead for President Trump’s campaign rally here on Saturday. She planned to stay far from it, hunkered down at home with everything she might need to weather the weekend.

“I’ve been referring to it as ‘The Super-Spreader in Chief’ is coming,” Bloomfield, 57, said in the parking lot of the Market Basket, as she loaded groceries into her truck.

As the president’s rally looms, some residents, store owners, and elected officials fretted about the coronavirus pandemic and the divisiveness of the expected crowd, while a growing chorus of health care professionals and others asked Governor Chris Sununu to require masks at the event.


“We’ve been doing so well on so many levels here in New Hampshire,” Bloomfield said, adding that she lives near Trump supporters and gets along well with them. “I’m concerned . . . that he’s going to bring out that divisiveness, bring out more of those people that are not willing to have conversations.”

She worried that Trump supporters from out of town would bring the virus with them, causing cases in New Hampshire to rise. At the same time, she fears the president will sow discord among neighbors at the worst possible time.

Lucy Bloomfield said of President Trump, "I'm concerned ... that he's going to bring out that divisiveness."Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Even Trump fans planning to attend the rally said they hope other participants will follow public health advice.

“I’m hoping people will do the right thing,” said Steve Malm, 66, a Hampton resident who plans to arrive at the Trump event early. “They’re pushing [masks] more this time.”

Malm’s wife had just purchased a Trump 2020 mask, which she plans to wear Saturday, and they were both excited about attending. Going to a rally in person is different from watching the president on TV, Malm said.


“He gets the crowd fired up. We enjoy it,” he said.

Trump’s outdoor rally, to be held at the Portsmouth International Airport at Pease, is his latest effort to return to normal campaigning in the face of the virus. His first attempt, in Tulsa, Okla., last month, ended up attracting far fewer attendees than his campaign expected, but nonetheless led to an apparent spike in COVID-19 cases in the city afterward.

“Science says wear a mask or we’ll end up like Tulsa,” Portsmouth City Councilor Deaglan McEachern tweeted this week. “[Governor Sununu], your job isn’t only staying safe yourself, it’s keeping NH safe. Do your job.”

McEachern said Thursday that the council does not have the authority to mandate masks at the airport.

Sununu has said he won’t require attendees to wear masks, noting he hasn’t mandated face coverings at any other large gathering.

“Whether they were the Black Lives Matter protests, whether they were protests on the State House lawn, whether it’s a political rally — whatever it is — everyone’s always treated the same,” he said Tuesday. “To have a mask order for one and not the other isn’t fair, doesn’t make sense.”

Sununu did say earlier this week, however, that he was pleased the Trump campaign planned to distribute hand sanitizer and masks to attendees.

Some store owners in Portsmouth said they were steering clear of the event, but still feared it would hurt the city.


“My biggest fear is every time Trump goes into some city or whatever to do his campaign, everyone gets sick again,” said Ellie Bliss, assistant store manager at the beauty boutique JaneGee downtown. Like Bloomfield, she also worried about the other ailments the community might contract.

“He’s bringing in a lot of unhappy people, and he’s bringing in white supremacists and things of that nature,” Bliss said.

Jane Gee, the shop’s owner, said she had been getting calls from her family in Australia begging her to stay safe over the weekend.

“I think it’s just as dumb as forever,” Gee said, while getting her nails painted in the back of the shop Thursday.

At least one local restaurant, the Country View, said it has decided to go on hiatus until Thursday for safety reasons.

Sununu said he plans to greet Trump upon arrival in New Hampshire — while wearing a mask — but would not be staying for the event himself.

“I will not be in the crowd of thousands of people,” he said this week. “As the governor I try to be extra cautious for myself and my family.”

A group of New Hampshire health care professionals backed the idea of requiring masks at the Trump rally in a letter to Sununu on Wednesday. Trump himself pointedly does not wear a mask.

The letter said health experts were “deeply concerned” that the event could cause a spike in COVID-19 cases.

“To protect the health of Granite Staters, we urge you to mandate masks for every attendee, including President Trump, and enforce this rule strictly,” the letter said. “If you fail to do so, COVID-19 infection will grow.”


Some residents said that although they wouldn’t be attending themselves, they’re glad the rally is taking place.

“I think society needs to get back to normal,” said Bill Ball, a 71-year-old resident of Stratham, who was smoking a cigar in downtown Portsmouth on Thursday. Ball said he plans to vote for Trump but is also avoiding large crowds and won’t be attending the rally.

“To wear a mask or to socially distance is such an easy thing,” he said. “I think this COVID thing is kind of overblown, but it’s a serious thing.”

It isn’t clear how many state officials will be at the event. At least three Republican state senators said they would not attend, for a range of reasons. Others said they were largely unconcerned about the health risks.

The state’s GOP vice chair, Pam Tucker, said she plans to go and “practice the same safe health measures that I have for the past three months.” Her main concern is the weather, which will be humid and possibly stormy.

“This is going to be a safe, fun event,” said Tucker. “But the humidity could give me a really bad hair day.”

James Pindell of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him @steveannear.