The longshot Republican challenger in Maine’s 1st Congressional District maintained in a Tuesday debate that too many people are wearing masks in a bid to control the spread of the coronavirus, despite evidence that a significant number of cases are symptom-free.
Jay Allen, a physician and Army veteran from New Harbor, has made his opposition to mask mandates a central part of his campaign against six-term U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat. Pingree has barely campaigned while leading the newcomer handily in polls so far.
The two faced off in a virtual Tuesday debate hosted by Portland CBS affiliate WGME and the Bangor Daily News in the second meeting between the candidates ahead of the Nov. 3 election. They are diametrically opposed on most issues, from the Affordable Care Act to the economy.
Mask usage has taken on a political life during the pandemic, though federal health officials have recommended them for months as a barrier to prevent respiratory droplets that spread the virus from infecting others in public places. President Donald Trump has downplayed their effectiveness at times before contracting the virus recently.
Allen said too many are likely wearing masks and referenced the federal government advising against wearing them early in the pandemic as the country confronted equipment shortages. He also said “healthy people do not have the virus,” though masks are recommended in part because there is evidence a significant portion of people with the virus do not show symptoms.
The Republican then went on to say people could determine the likelihood of being sick by looking at the infection rate for a county. Pingree pushed back, saying a medical professional questioning the usefulness of masks “really undermines public health concerns.”
The two came close to agreement on supporting the president’s China tariffs, an issue that has been fraught for the state’s lobster industry, which recently won federal aid to offset retaliatory tariffs. Allen said he supports the tariffs. Pingree said “some are good, some are bad.”
They also agreed that another stimulus was needed to help the economy recover from the coronavirus-induced economic recession. Pingree reiterated support for the $3 trillion package passed by House Democrats in May that has gone nowhere in the Republican-led Senate.
Allen said one was probably needed “because things have been down for so long,” but said the best way for the economy to rebound was to reopen and “get people back to work.” He also said the U.S. Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision allowing the right to abortion nationwide.