The owners of a Levant apple orchard that hosted an impromptu campaign visit by President Donald Trump over the weekend have expressed regret that the event grew so large and that its attendees did not practice good social distancing or mask-wearing in the middle of a pandemic.
In a note posted to the Treworgy Family Orchards website on Tuesday, the business said that it was initially told “this would be a small, unpublicized, surprise, private, photo op which gave us no cause for alarm.” The business has also said the event was not meant as a rally or an endorsement of any candidate.
But word seemed to spread quickly about the event, and many hundreds of people ended up coming — about 3,000, according to event staff.
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While the orchard normally tries to enforce a policy on masking and social distancing, it said that it was unexpectedly forced to delegate all crowd control for the visit to the U.S. Secret Service.
“We share the concerns of many over the size of the gathering, lack of social distancing and mask wearing during the event,” the business wrote. “If something had changed within the White House or campaign planning for this visit, we were not made aware of it during the process. If we had it our way, the visit would have gone just as we had initially been told: an unannounced photo op with the President and his team.”
The event came amid an ongoing uptick in COVID-19 cases across Maine, and also at a time when numerous members of the Trump orbit have tested positive for the disease over the last month, including the president himself and at least five staffers for Vice President Mike Pence, who visited Hermon about a week before Trump. Penobscot County Commissioner Andre Cushing was later warned that he may have been exposed to someone with the virus during Pence’s appearance, but he tested negative.
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It’s too soon to know whether the virus spread among the Trump supporters who flocked to Treworgy Orchards over the weekend, given that symptoms would not appear until three to five days after an infection and it would take additional time to confirm the new cases with tests, according to Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah.
“But we are on the lookout for those,” Shah said. “What we’ve seen in other states is that any large gathering, irrespective of the purpose for which the gathering was organized, if folks are coming together in close proximity, especially where face coverings aren’t being worn, there can be the possibility of transmission and other cases being generated.”
The crowd was packed at the orchard, where many supporters packed in tightly without wearing masks, even though state coronavirus rules limit outdoor gatherings to 100 people and mandate masks or other face coverings in places where it is hard to maintain distance from others.
A USA Today analysis recently found that COVID-19 cases grew at a faster rate in five counties in the weeks after they hosted Trump rallies compared to the preceding weeks.