October 6, 2020/Media, Press

“If You Play With Fire, You Get Burned”: Experts Slam Tillis, GOP for Irresponsible Campaign Events

Tillis yet again caught wearing a mask when he thought the cameras were rolling but without one when he thought they were off
After Senator Tillis attended a White House event last week that is now being questioned as a superspreader event, infectious disease experts criticized Senator Tillis and Republican candidates for not following COVID precautions, saying “there is a potential pattern of transmission from D.C. to North Carolina through these political connections” and noted that “the already-present risk of COVID-19 infections in North Carolina has increased due to visits” from Republican politicians.

The experts explained that these events were irresponsible, and that events “would have to look very different from what they often currently look like: no mandatory masks and people in close proximity to one another.” Despite the limitation of large gatherings and repeated calls from experts and scientists on the importance of wearing a mask and social distancing, Senator Tillis continues to put his political priorities over safety, attending indoor campaign events where folks aren’t wearing masks, and traveling from D.C. to North Carolina.

Senator Tillis and Senate Republicans continue to plow forward on a Supreme Court nomination less than 30 days before the election – even as Senator Tillis and his other Republican colleagues are quarantining after receiving positive COVID-19 tests – in order to ram through a nominee that could be the decisive vote in the case that will determine the fate of the future of our health care.

This isn’t the first time Senator Tillis has been caught flouting public health guidelines when he thinks the cameras are off. Senator Tillis was caught without a mask despite publicly talking about the importance of masks and encouraging North Carolinians to wear them.

An infectious diseases expert had this reminder for Senator Tillis: “If you play with fire, you get burned. There’s no way around it.” 

“Senator Tillis irresponsibly flouted public health guidelines to attend a potential superspreader event to push forward with a Supreme Court nominee who will decide the future of our health care and protections for people with pre-existing conditions,” NCDP spokesperson Robert Howard said. “That’s plain irresponsible and dangerous, yet Senator Tillis continues to show that he’ll put his political considerations before our public health.”


News & Observer: ‘If you play with fire, you get burned.’ Is a COVID-19-safe political event possible?
By Aaron Sanchez-Guerra
October 3, 2020

Key Points:

  • Large political gatherings in North Carolina that flout safety guidelines ahead of the 2020 elections have continued even as cases of COVID-19 rise across the state.
  • That kind of event brought COVID-19 to the White House, resulting in President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump and some staff and party members — including N.C. Sen. Thom Tillis — testing positive for the coronavirus.
  • Can political events in North Carolina be held safely?
  • “In the middle of a pandemic, there’s no such thing as a gathering that’s 100% safe,” said Pia MacDonald, infectious disease epidemiologist at RTI International. “The word ’safely’ is a misnomer.”
  • “If you play with fire, you get burned. There’s no way around it,” MacDonald said.
  • At the White House last Saturday during Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination, people mingled, kissed and hugged, mostly without masks. Several high-profile attendees have subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus.
  • Health experts said that the already-present risk of COVID-19 infections in North Carolina has increased due to visits from people connected to the White House cluster.
  • Trump’s daughter Ivanka as well as Tillis and his wife, Susan, participated in events in the state this past week.
  • “What you have now is a special case where there is a potential pattern of transmission from D.C. to North Carolina through these political connections,” said Julie Swann, an N.C. State University professor and researcher who has worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “That does increase the risk for some of these political events that can be linked through potential infection.”
  • Despite Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order limiting outdoor gatherings to 50 people and indoor gatherings to 25 people, an exemption allows “activities constituting the exercise of First Amendment rights,” the governor’s office told The N&O previously.
  • The North Carolina Republican Party hosted Ivanka Trump at an event in Gaston County near Charlotte on Thursday before it was announced late that night that the president had tested positive for the coronavirus. Ivanka Trump, who reportedly tested negative, is seen in photos unmasked with attendees.
  • Macdonald of RTI International said lack of knowledge about the testing protocol poses an increased risk to attendees.
  • “It’s not clear what kind of testing the White House received,” she said. “They have not released and won’t release when President Trump had a negative test last, so we don’t know how long he could have possibly been walking around positive for the virus.”
  • A rapid test, for example, is not as accurate as nose swab tests, McDonald said, so it could have missed the virus in someone who attended.
  • Recent tweets from N.C. GOP Chairman Michael Whatley show images of other large gatherings with few people wearing masks and little or no social distancing.
  • One tweet shows an event for Black GOP members that was held Tuesday in Raleigh — held indoors with little mask-wearing and more than 25 people, the limit to indoor gatherings under Cooper’s executive order. Another celebration — a large outdoor event with no masks or social distancing — was held Friday night in Randolph County.
  • The senator attended a Mecklenburg County Republican Party event in Charlotte on Sept. 26, and can be seen in a photo without a mask.