Donald Trump Jr. talks to supporters outside Maine Military Supply in Holden on Sept. 23. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

A Thursday rally featuring Donald Trump’s eldest son was moved from a Hermon business to an Orrington church that has fought Maine’s coronavirus restrictions after the state’s health department reached out to the business about crowd-size concerns as cases rise.

Donald Trump Jr. was expected to speak at Greenway Equipment Sales on Thursday night as part of a stump campaign in the final days before Election Day. But the Trump campaign moved the outdoor event to Calvary Chapel after the business received a letter from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday, according to a Facebook post.

The post, signed by Greenway owners Tyler and Mitch Smith, said DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew referenced the state’s guidelines for large gatherings — 100 people outdoors with a mask requirement in places where social distancing is difficult and “stated that if there was non-compliance with the executive orders and guidelines, the state would take all reasonable and practicable actions to protect the health and safety of Maine people.”

The Smiths said they were “disappointed” in the post, saying they planned to take efforts to keep family, employees and attendees safe. They said masks and social distancing “were at the top of that list,” but it was unclear if those measures would have been required for attendees.

“The threat of repercussions on our business caused concern and, despite our efforts, we realized that some variables were beyond our control,” the Smiths said.

Prior Trump campaign events in Maine have drawn large, mostly maskless crowds. When the president visited Treworgy Family Orchards in Levant on Sunday, for example, there were signs encouraging mask use but the guidelines were not enforced. Thursday’s visit to Maine by Donald Trump Jr. will be his second recent visit to the area.

Tyler Smith told the Bangor Daily News that he had told people on social media that he “expected” people to wear masks when they attended the event, but declined to comment further.

The event is now scheduled to take place at the evangelical Orrington church led by Pastor Ken Graves, which unsuccessfully sued Mills in federal court over virus restrictions in May. The case has been appealed to the federal appeals court in Boston. 

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Lambrew said the department has also reached out to the church to remind it of the guidelines on large public gatherings, but did not want to speculate on what would happen at the event. She said the department has also done so before when it has heard of large gatherings, such as weddings, and that Greenway was treated no differently.

“This is not about politics,” she said. “This is about public health.”

Lambrew said event organizers should “look hard” at what they could do to keep people safe and be mindful that yelling can transmit the virus more than regular talking. Approximately 250  chairs were spaced out as a crowd gathered for the rally outside the church in the rain on Thursday with standing room available, according to campaign staff.

The orchard that hosted the elder Trump’s visit has since expressed regret that restrictions were not followed. Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, has previously criticized the Republican president’s campaign for holding such large events, including Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Dysart’s in Hermon last week and Trump’s visit to the orchard. 

A spokesperson for the Trump campaign did not immediately return messages seeking comment. The church did not immediately respond to a phone message.

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