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Zeldin criticized by opponents for not wearing mask at rally

Rep. Lee Zeldin, seated wearing a baseball cap,

Rep. Lee Zeldin, seated wearing a baseball cap, attended President Trump's Tulsa rally Saturday. Credit: AP/Stephen Pingry

Eastern Long Island Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin is facing criticism from his potential Democratic opponents after appearing at President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Saturday without wearing a mask or adhering to social distancing guidelines.

The congressman, whose home county of Suffolk has had nearly 2,000 coronavirus-related deaths, has appeared at local events, including a Memorial Day service, wearing a mask since the COVID-19 outbreak began. He told Newsday earlier this week he would bring a mask to Tulsa and would wear it if necessary.

Oklahoma’s state health department reported more than 10,000 cumulative coronavirus cases as of Sunday, a sharp rise from the 6,500 reported at the beginning of June.

But when Zeldin appeared at the rally on Saturday, he was not wearing a mask and sat next to other maskless Trump supporters. 

Zeldin campaign spokesman Lance Trover said it was because the congressman and those around him had recently tested negative for COVID-19. 

"The congressman wore a mask to his seat, which was only removed once he was seated, because the congressman had just tested negative for coronavirus just prior to the start of the rally, as well as everyone else seated around him in his section," he said. "Immediately following the President's speech, he departed to Air Force One."

The congressman did not acknowledge the lack of social distancing at the event on social media or during a Sunday morning appearance on "Fox & Friends," but instead touted the mood and attendance at the event.

“The energy was outstanding,” he said. “Everybody who was there, they were excited to be there. There were people who were camped out for days.”

Zeldin’s Democratic opponents, who are facing a four-way primary on Tuesday, took to Twitter to criticize him for not taking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommended precautions.

“Last night, this is where @leezeldin spent his time. At a rally in Tulsa, with @realDonaldTrump, surrounded by thousands of people, without a mask amid a coronavirus pandemic,” Suffolk County Legis. Bridget Fleming, one of four Democrats seeking to unseat Zeldin, said in a tweet.

Democratic candidate Nancy Goroff, a Stony Brook University professor and chairwoman of its chemistry department, commented on a pre-rally photo of Zeldin and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville) in which the pair were not wearing masks.

“The people of Suffolk County are looking for real leaders to take action on the things we care about: healthcare, climate, affordability, and coronavirus,” wrote Nancy Goroff. “Also, PUT ON YOUR MASK!”

Candidate Perry Gershon, a businessman who lost to Zeldin in the November 2018 election and is again running for his seat, criticized the congressman for applauding the president when he said he told officials to slow COVID-19 testing to keep case numbers low.

“Just said it: ‘I said to my people, slow the testing down,’ ” Gershon posted on Twitter, paraphrasing the president. “@RepLeeZeldin is there applauding. Remember that in November. #flipNY01.”