GOP official who caught COVID-19 after attending a nearly maskless Republican meeting said he 'felt like I was going into a den of virus'

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  • A Michigan GOP official raged at colleagues over a meeting where he thinks he caught COVID-19.

  • Jason Watts attended the indoor meeting after some officials petitioned for his removal.

  • Watts told MLive that masks and vaccines "shouldn't have a political party."

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

A local GOP official in Michigan tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a nearly maskless party meeting discussing a petition to fire him, Michigan Live reported Wednesday.

Jason Watts, an elections official in Allegan County who is also the party treasurer in the 6th Congressional District, told MLive on Tuesday that he was one of at least three people he saw wearing a mask at the March 31 meeting, which took place at an indoor restaurant.

The meeting was called because some officials were petitioning to remove him as treasurer after he criticized former President Donald Trump in an interview with The New York Times. He said he felt required to be at the meeting in person because "there was no Zoom option."

Kalamazoo County Republican Chair Scott McGraw confirmed there was not a Zoom event for the dinner, though virtual events were held when the restaurants were closed. He told Insider that he was told "by some people that our bylaws don't allow for Zoom."

Watts said he attended the meeting wearing two cloth masks but noticed others were not wearing masks.

"I felt like I was going into a den of virus," he told MLive, estimating that about 70 people were in attendance.

Related video: Watch anti-maskers protest in a Florida Target

The restaurant, Travelers Café and Pub in the city Portage, was operating under the state's restaurant restrictions - reducing occupancy by 50% and allowing 80 people indoors, its general manager, Brandon Jeannot, told MLive. Jeannot added that guests were generally encouraged to wear masks when walking around the restaurant but were permitted to take off masks at their tables while eating.

After the meeting, Watts tested positive for COVID-19. At least four Michigan Republicans - and possibly more than double that number - also were said to have tested positive following the meeting, the Chicago Tribune reported. Two weeks after the meeting, Watts is reportedly recovering at a hospital in Grand Rapids.

McGraw defended the indoor meeting, saying that, at times when people took masks off, it was "in accordance with the current restrictions in place."

"The covid virus is a terrible thing and people need to be careful where they go and what they do," McGraw told Insider in an email. "I believe our dinner was in full compliance with the governor's orders. People wore masks, sat no more than six to a table and sanitized."

McGraw confirmed that at least four people who attended the dinner tested positive within a week of the meeting, and he said he heard four others also tested positive but he doesn't "have direct knowledge of that."

"I don't know that anyone knows when and where they got the virus. Many of these people attend other meetings and hang out together. It's hard to say where it was contracted," he said in the email.

McGraw said Watts said "directly across" from him and kept his mask on "the entire meeting," and McGraw said he didn't test positive for COVID-19.

"Sometimes you do everything right and you still can get it," McGraw said. "In this new covid world, that's the risk you take when you leave your house."

McGraw, who was vaccinated before the meeting, told MLive "there's a faction of the Republican Party who don't want to get the vaccine" and encouraged others to get vaccinated and wear masks.

"I would think it would probably have its roots in in our resolve for freedoms," McGraw told MLive about some people being resistant to taking health precautions against COVID-19, but he told Insider that he is a "big proponent of the vaccine and wearing masks."

Watts slammed Republicans who refused to wear masks and get vaccinated in general, saying a mask and a vaccine "shouldn't have a political party."

"But we've conjured these things to have these connotations," Watts told MLive. "People are getting sick. And to put these connotations on these things does nobody any good."

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