In late July, Republican Senate candidate Manny Sethi held a standing-room only event in Mt. Juliet. Over 120 people sat in inside the Music City Baptist Church and almost no one was wearing a mask.
Even though a county mask ordinance was in place, Sethi, an orthopedic surgeon at Vanderbilt, told reporters people should have the option to choose what to do.
“I don’t think government should be mandating masks or anything and at our events we try to encourage people,” Sethi said.
A few hours before the event, Sethi’s opponent, Bill Hagerty, also held a rally at a restaurant in Franklin with no social distancing or masks.
In the final weeks of the Republican primary, Hagerty and Sethi campaigned across the state, holding events and ignoring local mask mandates.
However, local leaders in charge of the rules say they are reluctant to enforce them at campaign events, and so far it seems like the campaigns won’t face any penalty for violating the mask mandates in place.
“We are not going to come crashing in on a private event issuing citations,” says Franklin Mayor Ken Moore, who is also an orthopedic surgeon. “I think it’s up to us as elected officials to set the example and distance and use the masks.”
(The Tennessean reports Hagerty did wear a mask at his first campaign event for the general election.)
The issue of requiring people to wear facial coverings has been a controversial one within Republican circles.
At a recent GOP dinner in Hamilton County, attendees were warned about a potential COVID-19 exposure. The U.S. Senate candidates and other party leaders were in attendance.
But one who didn’t make it to that event was Gov. Bill Lee.
“Wherever I go, whatever I do, I distance and wear masks,” Lee told reporters last week. “And if I don’t believe that I can do that in that environment, then I’m generally not there.”
Lee has refused to issue a statewide mask mandate. He says they don’t work unless communities have buy-in.