Washington: Three US House Democrats have now had tested positive for COVID-19, prompting concern that last week’s insurrection at the US Capitol has also turned into a super-spreader event threatening the health of Congress members and their staff.
Those who tested positive were among dozens of legislators whisked to a secure location when pro-Trump insurrectionists stormed the Capitol on Wednesday (Thursday AEDT). Some members of Congress huddled for hours in the large room, while others were there for a shorter period.
“Today, I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff," Illinois Democrat Brad Schneider said on Wednesday (AEDT).
Illinois Democrat Brad Schneider is the third member of the US House of Representatives to test positive for COVID-19 after huddling with mask-less Congress members in the Capitol.Credit:Chicago Sun-Times/AP
It's not certain where and when they caught the illness, but the Capitol’s attending physician notified all House members of possible virus exposure and urged them to be tested. Dr Brian Moynihan said members who were in protective isolation last Wednesday “may have been exposed to another occupant with coronavirus infection”.
The three Democrats directed their anger towards some House Republicans who were also in the secure room and declined to wear masks, despite their role in blocking the spread of COVID-19. Video surfaced of multiple Republican politicians refusing to wear a mask even when one was offered.
Schneider's confirmation came after similar remarks from Washington Democrat Pramila Jayapal.
Washington Democrat Pramila Jayapal.Credit:AP
“Too many Republicans have refused to take this pandemic and virus seriously, and in doing so, they endanger everyone around them,” Jayapal said. “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 mask in a crowded room.
New Jersey Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman was the first to announce she had tested positive for COVID-19 after sheltering with others.
All three are isolating. Schneider said he was not feeling symptoms, while Watson Coleman said she was experiencing mild, cold-like symptoms. Jayapal did not elaborate on how she was feeling, but noted that she began to quarantine several days ago out of concern about conditions in the secured room.
Within hours of their announcements, their colleagues from Michigan and Massachussets, Debbie Dingell and Anthony Brown, introduced legislation that would impose a $US1000 ($1285) fine on any member of Congress refusing to wear a mask on Capitol grounds during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is not brave to refuse to wear a mask. It is selfish, stupid and shameful behaviour that puts lives at risk,” Dingell said.
Jayapal also called on the House sergeant-at-arms to remove any legislator from the House floor who declines to wear a mask.
“This is not a joke," she said. "Our lives and our livelihoods are at risk, and anyone who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable for endangering our lives because of their selfish idiocy."
US senators are escorted by US Capitol police through tunnels to a safe location after Trump supporters breached the US Capitol last week.Credit:Bloomberg
Schneider said he was in the crowded secure location for about four hours. He said he received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine a few days before that potential exposure.
However, health experts note that it is possible for a person to get infected with the virus just after vaccination because the vaccine did not have enough time to provide protection.
“I don’t know from whom I got this virus, or even necessarily if I got it in that room,” he said during a virtual news conference from his suburban Chicago home, where he’s isolating. “But I know that my exposure in that room was greater than at any other time through this entire pandemic.”
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