GOP lawmaker positive for COVID, another in quarantine; Dems say they were never told

By May 27, 2020 No Comments

Rep. Andrew Lewis, R-Dauphin, speaks on the House floor May 14 — his last day in the Capitol before he was diagnosed with COVID-19. (Courtesy of House Republicans)

By Stephen Caruso
For the Pittsburgh Current

At least two Pennsylvania lawmakers say they’ve been in self-quarantine after exposure to COVID-19.

In a statement Wednesday, Rep. Andrew Lewis, R-Dauphin, confirmed he has tested positive for the disease.

He is the first lawmaker to be tested positive for the coronavirus.

Another GOP lawmaker, Rep. Russ Diamond, of Lebanon County, told the Capital-Star he was also in self-quarantine due to potential exposure to a positive case at the Capitol.

The revelations come as the House prepared to pass important components of a temporary state budget during the pandemic. The news infuriated House Democrats, who discovered the news hours before Lewis’ statement.

Lewis said he had mild flu symptoms, was tested on May 18, and received a positive result on May 20. He was last in the Capitol on May 14.

Lewis said he informed House Republican human resources, and began self-quarantine. He said he has since completed isolation.

“I can confirm every member or staff member who met the criteria for exposure was immediately contacted and required to self-isolate for 14 days from their date of possible exposure,” Lewis said in a statement.

Diamond told the Capital-Star that the House Republican human resources office informed him in an email that he had been in touch with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 on May 21.

He said he is currently on his last day in quarantine and did not get tested because he “did not have symptoms.”

“I had tons of meetings and in-person things,” Diamond said. “I had a guy coming in to help with my house. I cancelled all that stuff.”

The contact came on May 14, Lewis’ last day in the Capitol.

Diamond received the notification after 5 pm on May 21. That morning, Diamond testified before a House committee on his resolution to end Gov. Tom Wolf’s health emergency.

According to video of the meeting, Diamond did not wear a mask.

In an email, House Republican spokesperson Mike Straub said that the chamber followed CDC guidelines, and only notified individuals who were within six feet of Lewis up to 48 hours before the onset of symptoms.

Given the timing of Lewis’ test, and that Lewis’ last day in the Capitol was on May 14, Straub said that it “did not require outside staff or assistance beyond our existing staff” to track and inform Lewis’ contacts.

“Absolutely anyone, from anywhere in the Capitol, who may have been exposed within those guidelines, was notified,” Straub said.

That did not include any Democrats, who first learned of the news Wednesday through media reports, House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, said in a statement.

“While we are pleased to learn that this House member seems to have recovered, it is simply unacceptable that some House Republicans knew about this for more than a week and sat on that knowledge,” he said.

Dermody also pointed to lawmakers who haven’t worn masks in the Capitol, which he said “shows a fundamental lack of respect for fellow lawmakers, our staff and our families back home.”

Pittsburgh Rep. Dan Frankel released the following statement Wednesday afternoon:

“Over the past two weeks in the Health Committee and on the floor, my Democratic colleagues and I have fended off a litany of attempts to degrade public health protections while Republican members were personally flaunting the rules by refusing to wear masks to protect other members and scheduling meetings in tiny rooms with members packed together.

“All the while, some Republican members knew that their own membership had been exposed to Covid-19, and they chose to keep that information secret.

“Republicans have gone to battle for the argument that personal responsibility to follow CDC guidelines alone was enough to protect the public. Now, we learn that they didn’t even attempt to protect their own members or the communities that their members return to.

“Pennsylvanians are suffering greatly from this medical and financial catastrophe, and many of them are being asked to place the health and safety of others ahead of their own well-being. I am horrified to learn that members of the General Assembly failed to do the right thing, at a time when so many Pennsylvanians are doing so in much more difficult situations.

“The failure of these Republican members and their leadership to follow basic safety protocols makes plain their disregard for those around them, but worse: it reveals a total abdication of their responsibility to act as leaders during this confusing time.

“The virus doesn’t care about someone’s ideology.

“The virus doesn’t care if you believe in it.”

The revelation was also news to some Republicans. Two rank-and-file lawmakers told the Capital-Star they were not aware of Lewis’ diagnosis until Wednesday.

Stephen Caruso is a staff writer with the Pennsylvania Capital-Star where this story first appeared.

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