Massachusetts Republican Leader, 60, Says He Believes He Caught COVID at White House Hanukkah Event

A member of the Massachusetts Republican Party believes he may have caught COVID-19 while attending a White House Hanukkah event on Dec. 9 amid the ongoing pandemic.

Tom Mountain, vice chairman of the Massachusetts Republican State Committee, had the coronavirus earlier this month and was hospitalized three days after going to the Washington, D.C., gathering. He told WJAR that his health battle was so severe he was nearly "ready to be put on a lifesaving ventilator."

The 60-year-old admitted to the outlet that he was "one of the naysayers" when it came to masks and other public health precautions, though, now, he no longer is. Mountain's symptoms included "severe cough, chills, fever, upset stomach [and] extreme fatigue."

"My family tried to dissuade me. I didn't listen," he said about choosing to go to the event despite health officials urging against large indoor gatherings as cases spiked at the time.

Mountain recalled that the party had over 100 guests from around the country, telling WJAR that "people would just leisurely and gingerly take off their mask to mingle, to schmooze. I don't even think some people wore masks the entire time."

"And again, I was guilty as anyone else. I just wasn't wearing a mask," he said.

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The reception was one of multiple indoor holiday parties slated to be held at the White House this month despite the pandemic. In a previous statement to PEOPLE, First Lady Melania Trump's spokesperson said safety precautions — including required masks, hand sanitizer and "encouraged" social distancing — would be put in place.

"The People's House will celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah while providing the safest environment possible," the statement read. "This includes smaller guest lists, masks will be required and available, social distancing encouraged while on the White House grounds, and hand sanitizer stations throughout the State Floor."

"Guests will enjoy food individually plated by chefs at plexiglass-protected food stations. All passed beverages will be covered," added the statement. "All service staff will wear masks and gloves to comply with food safety guidelines."

Mrs. Trump's spokesperson did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment about Mountain's claims.

Mountain acknowledged that there's no way to know exactly where he contracted COVID-19, though he said prior to the Hanukkah event he felt healthy. According to the CDC, symptoms of the coronavirus can begin two to 14 days after exposure.

Four of Mountain's family members have since tested positive for the coronavirus, he said.

"Well, let's put it this way: When I went down to Washington, D.C., for the White House Hanukkah event, I was perfectly fine," he told WJAR. "And three days later after that event, I was in the hospital at Brigham and Women's ready to be put on a lifesaving ventilator."

"Wear a mask. Stay as far away from people as possible," Mountain added of advice to others during the public health crisis.

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