5th member of Congress contracts COVID in post-riot surge

A fifth member of Congress has tested positive for COVID-19 following last week’s lockdown at the Capitol — a surge of cases that had been predicted as a result of the Jan. 6 occupation.

Democratic Rep. Adriano Espaillat of New York, the fourth to test positive, announced Thursday morning that he was isolating, after similar announcements in the past week by Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Brad Schneider of Illinois, all Democrats.

Republican Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee tested positive for the virus on Jan. 10, but the announcement from his office indicated that he believes he was exposed by contact with another House member he shares living quarters with, not at the Capitol.

The House physician, Dr. Brian Monahan, warned on Sunday of the danger to “many” members of Congress and staffers who “may have been exposed” to COVID-19 when they took shelter — in some cases huddled together in windowless rooms for several hours — during the riot and occupation of the Capitol.

Congressional Representative Adriano Espaillat speaking at a protest in support of Ravi Ragbir. (Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Rep. Adriano Espaillat. (Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The COVID-19 pandemic had taken a disproportionate toll on Republicans until now. According to GovTrack, 41 Republican House members and seven Republican senators had tested positive for the coronavirus since last March — compared with 12 Democrats in the House and none in the Senate. Wearing masks as a precaution has become a signifier of party identity, and many Republicans have treated it as a symbol of disloyalty to President Trump.

“Too many Republicans have refused to take this pandemic and virus seriously, and in doing so, they endanger everyone around them,” Jayapal said in a statement released late Monday night. “Only hours after President Trump incited a deadly assault on our Capitol, our country, and our democracy, many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum COVID-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic — creating a superspreader event on top of a domestic terrorist attack.”

The count of positive test results does not include legislators who have tested positive for antibodies (indicating prior exposure) or Rep.-elect Luke Letlow, a Republican from Louisiana who died of the virus in late December before being officially sworn into his seat.

Those numbers also do not include Trump or the numerous White House staffers who have tested positive. They also do not take into account the husband of Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., who was at the Capitol during the insurrection. Pressley herself has not contracted the virus.

US President Donald Trump takes off his facemask as he arrives at the White House upon his return from Walter Reed Medical Center, where he underwent treatment for Covid-19, in Washington, DC, on October 5, 2020. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)
President Trump takes off his face mask as he arrives at the White House from Walter Reed medical center, where he underwent treatment for COVID-19 in October. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., was filmed during the lockdown attempting to hand masks to a number of Republican colleagues, including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Michael Cloud of Texas and Doug LaMalfa of California. They all refused.

“By the end of passing them out, I only had one left in my hand offering them to everyone,” Rochester told CNN. “I was disappointed in those who didn’t accept the masks but was encouraged by those who did. At least we were a little bit safer.”

In a Washington Post op-ed published Wednesday, Watson Coleman — a 75-year-old cancer survivor who said she felt like she had a mild cold — blamed her Republican colleagues for her contracting it.

“I am angry that after I spent months carefully isolating myself, a single chaotic day likely got me sick,” Watson Coleman wrote. “I am angry that several of our nation’s leaders were unwilling to deal with the small annoyance of a mask for a few hours. I am angry that the attack on the Capitol and my subsequent illness have the same cause: my Republican colleagues’ inability to accept facts.”

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia, speaks to a member of the media as she walks through Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. (Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. (Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“It is absolutely ridiculous and insane to blame us,” Greene told Fox News. “[We] did not have COVID or any symptoms.”

As experts have said for nearly a year, asymptomatic individuals can spread the virus without knowing they have it, which is why masking and social distancing is recommended even for healthy individuals. Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said last week that the riot was a potential superspreader event.

“I do think you have to anticipate that this is another surge event. You had largely unmasked individuals in a nondistanced fashion who were all through the Capitol,” Redfield said in an interview with McClatchy.


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