When people talk about politics as if it were a matter of life or death, that’s supposed to be a figure of speech.

But Republican candidates and political organizers in Maine could make it a literal truth. In the midst of a global pandemic, they have been holding mass gatherings, in conflict with state public safety guidelines, allowing supporters to confuse recklessness with a commitment to liberty.

No one should actually have to die because of their political beliefs. But that could happen if the party’s elders don’t start scaling back dangerous campaigning in the middle of a pandemic.

With COVID-19 spreading around the state, campaigns should take extraordinary care that political happenings don’t turn into super-spreader events where many people become infected and some get gravely ill or die.

Republicans gather without masks on Sept. 23, when Donald Trump Jr. visited Maine. Photo from Dale Crafts Facebook page

We’ve seen one such event on Aug. 7 in Maine, when an indoor wedding reception in Millinocket turned into an outbreak that spread to a nursing home in Madison and the York County Jail, sickening 176 people. Eight have died as a result of the outbreak, and none of them were guests at the reception.

Another such event may have taken place outside the White House on Sept. 26, as President Trump introduced his new nominee for the Supreme Court. Attendees sat close together and few wore masks. By the end of last week, at least seven people who attended the event have tested positive for COVID, including the president, the first lady, three U.S. senators and several members of Trump’s staff. Hundreds of people may have been exposed as a result of the event, including the families of the guests and the people working.

So, it’s disturbing to see photos of maskless people packed close together at Republican events in Maine. And it’s even more disturbing to hear this conduct supported by candidates who are running for positions of leadership.

Dale Crafts, the Republican running to unseat 2nd District U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, was pictured in a packed room where no one was wearing a mask. Instead of recognizing his bad judgment, Crafts put out a statement blaming the “liberal media” for making the “coronavirus more political than it already has become.”

But it is Republicans like Crafts who have turned state social distancing and face-covering guidance into political issues. The virus is not political at all. It spreads between people through face-to-face contact, regardless of their views. The best ways to control it is to avoid gatherings, maintain safe distances – and, when that’s impossible, cover your face with a mask.

The same dangerous attitude was on display with 1st District Republican nominee Jay Allen, who disputes the danger of the virus, which has already killed 209,000 Americans. “My interpretation is that the risk is not that high,” Allen told a reporter on Friday, explaining why he was comfortable not wearing a mask in public. “We’re all going to get this eventually.”

Very few people would agree that COVID poses a small risk, or that it would be a good idea for us all to be infected. Since the beginning of March, Maine has diagnosed 5,500 COVID cases, and 142 of them have died. If, as Allen suggests, 1.3 million of us become infected, we could expect more than 30,000 deaths. Letting the virus spread unchecked would be disastrous.

No one is asking these candidates to change their politics, but they should put an end to the dangerous rhetoric regarding the coronavirus pandemic. Until there is a vaccine, it’s up to all Mainers – Democrats, Republicans and unenrolled – to keep the rate of infection as low as possible to save lives.


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