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Trump rally attendee faces COVID backlash

Worker fired after airing coronvirus concern over boss’ travel to DC

SARANAC LAKE — Clothing store owner Gregory Moore traveled to Washington to attend a pro-Donald Trump rally on Wednesday. When he arrived home, he faced backlash, and not so much about politics as about the pandemic.

After learning that her boss was traveling out of state and concerned that he could be a public health risk, one of Moore’s employees at the Bear Essentials store, Sara Francis, alerted the public about his travel over social media. She was later fired.

Francis posted about Moore’s travel and quarantine plans in a Facebook group for Saranac Lake residents this week. In the post, she told locals that her boss wasn’t planning to quarantine for two weeks — or get tested for COVID-19 — after he arrived home to Saranac Lake. She warned locals to take precautions.

“Keep that in mind when you’re out shopping locally,” she wrote.

The rally Moore attended with family members later became a violent siege as some Trump supporters invaded the Capitol and temporarily halted proceedings to confirm Joe Biden’s Electoral College win. Moore, in a phone interview on Thursday, stressed that he left before the riot began and does not condone what happened.

Quarantine question

After her initial post, Francis posted screenshots of her texts with Moore, in which he said he didn’t plan to quarantine for two weeks but did not indicate whether he planned to get tested for COVID-19 after returning home.

Francis also posted a video about the situation on the social media app TikTok. As of Friday afternoon that video, and a second follow-up video showing her text exchange with Moore, had been viewed more than 77,500 times collectively. In her TikTok video, Francis claimed that Moore participated in the riot that happened after the rally, which Moore has disputed.

Moore told the Enterprise on Thursday that he always planned to follow state guidelines, get tested and quarantine for four days.

According to the state Department of Health, a person who travels to a non-contiguous state or U.S. territory is required to quarantine for 10 days. Travelers who are out of the state for longer than 24 hours can avoid that quarantine requirement by obtaining a test three days prior to arrival in New York, quarantining for three days upon arrival, and on the fourth day of their quarantine must get another COVID test. If both tests come back negative, then the person is allowed to leave quarantine.

The incubation period for the coronavirus — the amount of time it takes after an exposure before a person starts experiencing symptoms — ranges anywhere from two to 14 days. People generally begin to experience symptoms five to six days after exposure. COVID-19 is often transmitted before people experience symptoms, and not everyone who contracts COVID-19 will experience symptoms.

Outrage

Francis’ post about Moore was shared widely, not only within Saranac Lake, where there is a Bear Essentials store downtown, but also in Lake Placid, where Moore owns two stores: another Bear Essentials and Quantum Apparel. The post sparked much outrage — against both Francis and Moore.

Moore said he went to D.C. to “lend his voice to free and fair elections.” He also said everyone he spoke to there was “angry and upset, but very polite and for the most part very well-spoken.”

Moore is an Iraq war veteran who served in the U.S. Army for 14 years. While overseas, he said he fought for free and fair elections in Iraq. He said he doesn’t condone election fraud “no matter what side perpetrates it.”

“Election integrity is very important to me,” he said.

Many electoral fraud claims were aired in Wednesday’s congressional session. Many have been found to be false, misunderstandings of state law or based on inaccurate data. The nation’s law enforcement, courts and attorney general have rejected claims of widespread fraud. But many Republicans still believe the election was stolen from Trump.

“Disappointed and fearful”

After hearing that Moore had traveled out of state, Francis said she was “disappointed and fearful” that he could potentially expose her, or someone she cared about, to the coronavirus.

“I have a lot of people in my family who are high-risk, so I don’t want to put them at risk,” she said. “I haven’t seen a lot of them for over a year at this point.”

She also said she feared for the community’s safety.

“I felt the community was at risk because he would be back at work on Saturday,” she said.

Francis requested two weeks off to self-quarantine, to which Moore replied, via text: “Discuss with Linda,” referencing his wife, who co-owns the business. Moore went on to ask if it would’ve been OK if he’d gone to a protest in New York City instead, and Francis said no, “because you don’t wear a mask anywhere you go.” He said they each have their own beliefs and if Francis wanted to leave, “it’s your choice.”

Moore didn’t dispute Francis’ claim that he didn’t intend to quarantine for two weeks after returning home.

“She wanted to know if I was specifically going to quarantine for two weeks,” he said. “I said no, I was not. My intention was to follow state protocol, test with a four-day quarantine. She said she was uncomfortable. I said if she wants to take two weeks off, that’s fine. … She’s been a model employee.”

Moore expressed confusion about how his conversation with Francis snowballed.

“I have no idea how it escalated from there,” he said. “She got very belligerent on a text message. I don’t expect, as an employer, to have a discussion like that with an employee. When she started speaking slanderously about the business, she was fired. Which would happen with any employee, no matter the reason.”

Firing

Francis said Linda Moore fired her after Francis refused to take down her social media posts.

According to the state Department of Labor, without a contract restricting termination, “generally an employer has the right to discharge an employee at any time for any, or no, reason, providing it is not an act of illegal retaliation or discrimination.”

In an email Friday, the state Department of Labor clarified that workers are guaranteed job protection and financial compensation if they or their child are subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation issued by the state of New York, the state Department of Health, local Health Department, or “any government entity duly authorized to issue such order due to COVID-19.” Francis said she wasn’t issued a legal order to quarantine or isolate.

The Department of Labor does investigate worker complaints related to COVID-19. That’s if those complaints are related to a worker being forced to work at a business that is not allowed to operate; an employer not following health and safety mandates, including providing personal protective equipment for public-facing staff; employees are particularly concerned because they, or a family member, are over 70 and/or have an underlying illness; their employer has failed to pay them wages owed for hours worked, earned sick pay or paid time off; their employer has threatened or fired them for reasons related to COVID-19; the employee qualifies for COVID-19 paid sick leave and their employer refuses to pay it; or an employee’s employer is forcing them to work when they are sick, according to the department.

Francis has filed a complaint with the state Department of Labor, as well as the state Department of Health and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Backlash

Moore characterized the backlash he’s received over Francis’ social media posts as evidence that “social media is a big problem in our society right now.

“It’s hit home in our small community,” he said. “No matter what people post, people believe it and based their comments on that now.

“We want to make sure all our employees are safe,” he added. “We treat them like family. This person was treated like family. I’m still baffled and in awe of how bad this went. We were hoping she would be a long-term employee.”

Francis said it was never her intention to “bash or drag anyone.”

“I simply wanted to warn the immediate community in Saranac Lake that this would be a risk and they should take it seriously and take the precautions they needed to,” she said.

“I’m overwhelmed,” she added, when asked how she was feeling after everything that had happened this week. “It’s been a lot of response to the situation, a lot of support but also a lot of backlash I wasn’t expecting at all.

“I’m just trying to come to terms with it now.”

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