After Maskless Appearance at Trump Speech, Should Thom Tillis Take a Coronavirus Test?

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., in a Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, June 16, 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Pool via AP)

By Billy Ball

September 2, 2020

With Tillis expected to join NC events with Trump and Mike Pence this week, Democrats say the senator should postpone or take a test.

After a maskless US Sen. Thom Tillis was captured on camera at President Trump’s Republican National Convention speech last week, state Democrats are calling on Tillis to suspend all in-person events until he receives a negative coronavirus test.

Tillis, the Republican incumbent, has been relatively outspoken in his party when it comes to masks and social distancing, although he apologized last week for removing his mask during the Trump event. 

The senator’s campaign snapped a photo of him wearing a mask beforehand, but photos of the event showed him sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with dozens at the Trump speech. Most were not wearing masks. 

“I’ve stressed the importance of mask wearing throughout this pandemic and have tried to lead by example on this issue, but last night I fell short of my own standard,” Tillis said in a statement. 

Now Democrats say the senator should be testing himself for the novel coronavirus, the deadly virus that has killed nearly 185,000 Americans and 2,779 North Carolinians.

Gov. Roy Cooper ordered a mandatory mask requirement in June, citing the advice of public health experts, epidemiologists and a White House coronavirus task force. There is mounting evidence that face masks are helpful in preventing the spread of coronavirus, and it is being recommended by numerous national and international health organizations. Click here for a Johns Hopkins FAQ on wearing masks.

Wednesday’s statement, which called the senator “hypocritical and shameful,” came from State Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin and Cozzie Watkins, a Charlotte activist and nurse whose fiery roll call vote at the Democratic National Convention went viral last month.  

“At the same time, Senator Tillis has restarted in-person campaigning, even after attending last week’s event, and has several events this week,” the statement read. “Senator Tillis must be clear with North Carolinians to protect their health. Has he already taken a coronavirus test? Has he gotten a negative result? If not, why is he pushing forward with in-person campaign events that may put North Carolinians at risk?”

Tillis was reportedly on hand for Trump’s event in Wilmington Wednesday, and he’s also expected to attend an anti-abortion rights event with Vice President Mike Pence in Raleigh Thursday, along with Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. 

Representatives for Tillis’ campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday, although some outlets applauded the senator for at least issuing an apology last week.  

North Carolina’s coronavirus numbers have stabilized somewhat in recent days and weeks, although it has been among a number of US states considered in the high-risk “red zone” for coronavirus outbreaks, White House reports have shown.

Tillis’ opponent in this fall’s election, Democrat Cal Cunningham, jumped onboard with the criticism, calling Tillis on Twitter “too weak to show North Carolinians his true character.”

Tillis has been a frequent target this summer on coronavirus response, after GOP leadership in the US Senate allowed federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits to expire. He’s also been pummeled by some for voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act seven times.  

The senator also suggested without evidence in July that Latino people, who’ve been hit hard by the virus, were less likely to wear masks

 The Tillis-Cunningham race is considered to be one of the nation’s closest, although most polls show the Democrat with a narrow lead. The race could also determine which party controls the US Senate.  


  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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