Most Trump backers flout guidelines on first post-virus Georgia stop

10/16/2020 -Macon, Georgia - President Donald Trump supporters make their way toward the stage during a Trump rally at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon, Friday, October 16, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

President Donald Trump’s first Georgia rally since being briefly hospitalized with COVID-19 looked a lot like his previous visit.

Supporters on Friday mostly flouted guidelines established by health professionals to slow the spread of the virus.

More than 1,000 supporters gathered at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon for Trump’s second visit to Georgia in three weeks — and two weeks after he was admitted to a military hospital to be monitored for symptoms related to the novel coronavirus.

The event flew in the face of state guidelines that Gov. Brian Kemp extended Thursday for large gatherings — a fact acknowledged in the campaign’s rental agreement with the airport — which encourage events have no more than 50 attendees.

To be allowed to attend, the public and the press had to agree not to sue Trump or the venue if they got COVID-19 at the event.

Connie Fiorani and Diana Saddoris traveled from Warner Robins to see Trump. Neither wore a mask as they stood at the back of the runway smoking cigarettes.

Fiorani said she would put one on when she joined the crowd by the stage, but only if asked to do so. Saddoris said she didn’t plan to wear one.

Saddoris said she wasn’t worried when Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19 because she believes he was sent by God to lead the country. Fiorani agreed, noting how quickly Trump recovered from the virus.

“To be honest with you, I don’t feel that the coronavirus is as bad as the mainstream media makes you think,” Fiorani said. “Yes, there are some people that have passed away, but how many had pre-existing problems?”

Both said they wear masks when working, and if asked, but otherwise don’t.

People were required to get their temperature checked upon entry. It’s unclear whether anyone was turned away at the gate.

The president has belittled the need for people to wear masks and shown disregard for crowd limits, undermining the efforts of public health officials, health experts said.

Brian Castrucci, a former Georgia Department of Public Health official who now runs the Maryland-based de Beaumont Foundation, a nonprofit that assists public health agencies, said the best way to stay healthy is to wear a mask, wash hands regularly and keep a distance from people who don’t live in the same household.

“He is undermining every public health guideline there is in the process of his campaign,” Castrucci said.

10/16/2020 -Macon, Georgia - A President Donald Trump supporter wears a face shield during a Trump rally at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon, Friday, October 16, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Maureen Morabec stopped in Macon to see Trump as she drove from Fort Myers, Florida, to Tennessee. Morabec, who wore a mask, said she knows the risk of being in a large crowd but wanted to see the president in person for the first time.

“I still wear my mask if I’m going shopping or if I’m around people because I feel it’s a courtesy to others to protect others, but also I don’t need to take a chance,” she said.

What about the other attendees who weren’t wearing masks?

“It’s their business,” she said.

According to the venue rental agreement for the event, masks were required when attendees couldn’t socially distance. Masks were available for those who didn’t have them and wanted them, and hand sanitation spots were spread throughout the tarmac.

Kemp, who spoke at the event, touted his handling of the pandemic. The state Department of Public Health announced Friday that more than 7,500 Georgians had died from complications from COVID-19.

“We have been guided by data, science and the advice of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey,” he said. “The data proves that our measured approach, protecting lives and livelihoods, worked.”

In an interview with Channel 2 Action News, Trump said he’s not heard of any problems stemming from his campaign rallies, which lately have taken place outside.

“I don’t know if you’ve been watching the science, as they like to say, but outside is much better than being inside, so we have them in airports, and you know, it’s sort of a funny thing: I like them better in airports than I do at arenas,” Trump said. "They do wear masks. We actually give out masks, but they do wear masks.”

Democrats blasted the event, saying the “administration failed us" in its handling of the pandemic.

The sentiment was on one of two billboards along I-75 that greeted motorists heading toward the rally. Another announced there would be a “Superspreader event” at the airport.

And local Democrats held a “Ridin' with Biden” car parade to start the day, featuring elected officials and activists promoting the former vice president’s campaign against Trump.

The president is the third Trump to visit Georgia within five days. His son Donald Trump Jr. and daughter Ivanka Trump made stops in metro Atlanta earlier in the week.

Staff writers Greg Bluestein and J. Scott Trubey contributed to this article.

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