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West Michigan Republicans test positive for COVID-19 after meeting in Portage

Traveler's Cafe and Pub.jpg
According to Watts, 69 people attended the meeting on March 25, 2021, at the Traveler's Café and Pub in Portage, and just three of the attendees wore masks. (WWMT/Gabriel Balderramas)

At least eight Republicans who attended a district GOP meeting at a Portage restaurant have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Jason Watts, treasurer of the 6th District Republican Party.

An Allegan County Republican, Watts said he first tested positive April 1 and was admitted to the hospital on April 8, 2021.

Watts told News Channel 3 he knew of at least eight attendees who had tested positive for COVID-19 in the days following a GOP district meeting at a Portage restaurant on March 25.

"We were doing it in accordance with the governor's rules and that. We've had a number of events that established and have never had any COVID outbreaks or illnesses that I know of," Kalamazoo County Republican Party Chair Scott McGraw said.

Watts said four of the people to test positive were seated at his table. McGraw said he sat across from Watts during the meeting, but he had been vaccinated in February.

"I got the shot, I encourage everyone to get the shot and I wear a mask, you know, constantly when I'm walking around our office, at events, or at meetings," he said.

According to Watts, 69 people attended the meeting at the Traveler's Café and Pub in Portage, and just three of the attendees wore masks. Other COVID-19 protocols were not followed, he said.

"I believe we were fully compliant with the governor's rules, people were wearing masks, you know, of course, in a restaurant if you're seated and eating you can remove your mask. If you're speaking in front of a group of people, you can remove your mask," McGraw said.

The Republican Party of Kalamazoo posted photos to its Facebook page April 8 of a different meeting. According to that post, the photos were taken inside Traveler's Café in Portage. The post, which has since been removed by the party, showed only a few people wearing masks.

Traveler's Pub released the following statement, “I feel very bad for anyone who catches COVID. While all COVID protocols were followed at our restaurant on March 25, the group was larger than I was expecting. I didn’t police the event as well as I should have.”

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, described indoor dining as one of the riskiest things people could do during the pandemic and encouraged Michigan residents to order take-out or dine outdoors.

Watts told News Channel 3 he discharged from the hospital Tuesday, April 13, 2021.

As the 6th District Republican Party’s treasurer, Watts said he felt pressured to attend the event, or face repercussions.

Watts said he did not want to attend in-person, but there was no virtual option.

"We've had many, many meeting there and we've never once had an issue with it, but you know I feel for the people that did get it. It's a very easily spreadable disease and we just all have to be very, very careful to try to prevent the spread of it," McGraw said.