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Officials: Popular Tennessee GOP event had virus exposure

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — On the eve of Tennessee's primary election, public health officials announced Wednesday that top Republican political candidates and others may have been recently exposed to COVID-19.

Hamilton County Health Department confirmed there was a virus exposure at a Lincoln Day Dinner in Chattanooga, a GOP event held Friday.

According to the county, case investigations concluded that a person attended the event while in their infectious period.

Senate GOP hopefuls Manny Sethi and Bill Hagerty were in attendance. The two were photographed not wearing masks while hugging and shaking hands with voters. Since then, they've continued to post photos from the campaign trail without masks on in close proximity to supporters usually also unmasked.

"After hearing the news this afternoon that a Hamilton GOP Dinner attendee has tested positive for COVID, I'll be going to get tested out of an abundance of caution," Sethi tweeted on Wednesday, adding that he encouraged Hagerty and others to do the same if they felt they had been exposed.

Hamilton County has a mask mandate in effect. However, it's unclear how strictly the order is being implemented. For example, Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond also attended the event and did not wear a mask.

"We know that COVID-19 is highly contagious and can spread easily at large gatherings," Health Department Administrator Becky Barnes said in a statement. "We recommend staying home if you are sick, practicing social distancing, wearing a mask, and washing your hands frequently to stop the spread of the virus in our community."

The county also encouraged attendees of the Lincoln Day Dinner to get tested and monitor their symptoms.

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