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State GOP Official Does A '180' On Masks After Personal Battle With COVID-1907:08
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Tom Mountain at the White House Hanukkah event on Dec. 9, 2020. (Courtesy Tom Mountain)
Tom Mountain at the White House Hanukkah event on Dec. 9, 2020. (Courtesy Tom Mountain)

Tom Mountain, vice chair of the Massachusetts Republican Party, once scoffed at the virus and at those who wore masks. That is, until he contracted the disease himself — most likely at a White House Hanukkah party held on Dec. 9.

WBUR sat down with Mountain to hear his story.

Interview Highlights

Mountain on the White House event where he probably caught the virus:

"As vice chair of the Massachusetts Republican Party and the vice chair of the Massachusetts Republican Jewish Committee, I annually go to the White House Hanukkah event. ... And lo and behold, I left that Hanukkah event that evening, seven nights and three days later, I was in the emergency room and I was in very rough shape.

"It's not really the fault of the White House staff: They were all wearing masks and when we were in line to get in, we had to wear masks. But once we got into the event, people couldn't help but take off the masks. Some people weren't wearing masks the entire time. And I wasn't wearing a mask because — I call it a lack of humility — carelessness for the virus."

Mountain on the "libertarian" attitude that he says fueled his prior disdain for masks:

"I was one of these people who didn't like wearing masks, didn't believe in it. Only wore it when I absolutely had to and I believed that I couldn't get it; I was invulnerable.

"Many of my colleagues will scoff at wearing a mask because they see it as an infringement on civil liberties. They see it as the government telling us what to do. But then again, they haven't gotten sick. ... It really took me getting sick to change my views 180 degrees, completely."

Mountain on his new appreciation for "the enormous weight" Gov. Baker carries:

"He called me several times when I was in the hospital. The first time he called me, I couldn't speak to him because I was hooked up to all types of gadgets. Then when I finally did speak to him, he was very worried about me. ... I was very grateful that he called me and I thought it was very kind of him.

"But, you know, in the back of my mind, I almost wanted to cower because although I didn't exactly go out with a loudspeaker ... and campaign against mask wearing, as a Republican state official, I could have championed [the cause] and been more careful and encouraged others to do so. ... And in speaking with the governor, I really got an inkling of what he was going through. ... In the end, there's no way of detecting how many people that the governor's coronavirus policies have saved, but I think it's probably thousands."

This segment aired on January 11, 2021.

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