By KIMBERLEE KRUESI, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn maintained Tuesday that she regularly wears masks after being photographed without a face covering at a recent White House event where multiple attendees have since tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Tennessee Republican was at the White House on Sept. 26 when President Donald Trump announced the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett. She attended as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is set to begin the confirmation hearing next week.
Those present were largely outdoors, but they sat shoulder to shoulder with barely a mask in sight — including Blackburn. Several participants later said they tested positive for the virus, ranging from President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, some senators and the president of the University of Notre Dame.
“I had my mask on. I had worn it over there when I was seated, I had taken my mask off while I was seated there and as I got up to leave I put my mask back on,” Blackburn said in a virtual call with reporters.
Blackburn, 68, had also traveled with Trump ahead of the Sept. 29 debate. However, despite being exposed to the virus, Blackburn said the recent events have not changed her behavior.
“Most of our work has been done virtually,” she said. “It really has not changed in how we’re working. We’re careful, we’re watchful, we’re tested regularly.”
Blackburn added the last time she tested negative for the virus was on Sunday. She stressed that along with wearing a mask, she also regularly dons face shields and gloves to protect herself from COVID-19.
Trump has sparked criticism for advising by tweet and video not to fear COVID-19, a disease that has resulted in more than 210,000 deaths in the U.S.
“Don’t be afraid of COVID. Don’t let it dominate your life,” Trump tweeted.
Likewise, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said that seeing the outbreak at the White House isn’t changing his approach. The Republican has stressed the importance of masks and said he wears one every day, though he has been spotted at some events where he and others are unmasked.
“My behavior really hasn’t changed as a result of someone else’s diagnosis,” Lee told reporters Tuesday. “I’ve taken it seriously. I will continue to do so and make decisions to protect myself and my family and to protect the loved ones around me.”
Blackburn avoided questions on whether she agreed with president that the public should not be afraid of the disease. Instead, she encouraged Tennesseans to be mindful and careful to protect themselves.
The governor, meanwhile, said being afraid is the wrong approach.
“I don’t think we should be afraid of it,” Lee said. “I think we should respect it appropriately and make decisions as such.”
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including life-threatening pneumonia.
Jonathan Mattise in Nashville contributed to this report.
Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.
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