WINSTON-SALEM — An unidentified person who attended a campaign rally for Republican candidate for governor Dan Forest tested positive for COVID-19, North Carolina health officials confirmed Wednesday.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said it’s aware of one case involving a person who attended a rally for the lieutenant governor in Burnsville on Oct. 15, spokeswoman Kelly Haight Connor said. No further details were available.
“People who have attended a mass gathering of any kind, including rallies, are encouraged to get tested for COVID-19,” the department said.
Burnsville is about 35 miles northeast of Asheville.
Forest campaign spokesman Andrew Dunn said they had received no word from DHHS on the COVID-19 case, learning of it through what was described as a leak to the media.
“(State health director) Dr. Mandy Cohen has repeatedly stated that all tracing and tracking is confidential and pandemics are not political, but I guess that does not apply to us six days before an election,” Dunn said in a statement. “We wonder if DHHS will also release the COVID cases linked to the protest march of thousands of people where the Governor marched without a mask. Whomever the individual is, we wish them a speedy recovery.”
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's campaign issued a statement pointing to Forest's campaign rallies as a factor on the positive test.
“This unfortunate development is the result of Dan Forest routinely putting people in harm’s way for months," said Liz Doherty, spokeswoman for Cooper’s campaign, in a statement. "We hope anyone diagnosed with COVID recovers. But especially right now North Carolinians deserve better from their leaders.”
Throughout his campaign, Forest has opposed Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically focusing on sending children back to school and sending people back to work.
In their debate on Oct. 14, Forest criticized Cooper’s decision to mandate masks and said North Carolinians should have the personal freedom to wear one if they choose.
“It should be a personal responsibility choice,” Forest said. “It doesn’t need to be a governor’s mandate. We don’t need a governor that treats us like 5-year-olds. We need a governor that does protect us, but not treat us like we’re little kids. Masks aren’t the solution to everything.”
Cooper's campaign has run a number of ads targeting Forest and his stance on the coronavirus. In one ad, a doctor advises Forest to get people attending his rallies to wear a mask. Another ad shows pictures of a Forest rally where few, if any, in attendance were wearing masks.
Associated Press writer Bryan Anderson in Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed to this report.