Lewis, whose last appearance at the state Capitol was on May 14, said he immediately went into isolation after testing positive and informed House officials about his condition. He stressed “every member or staff member who met the criteria for exposure” was contacted and told to isolate. One of Lewis’s GOP colleagues confirmed on social media Wednesday that he had been asked to self-quarantine, but Democrats said they are aware of at least two other Republicans who were also instructed to stay home.
On Wednesday, outraged Democratic lawmakers condemned House Republicans for not disclosing that the novel coronavirus had infiltrated Pennsylvania’s state Capitol, with some demanding resignations and formal investigations into why details about Lewis’s diagnosis were withheld.
“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,” Pennsylvania House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody said in a statement. “Knowing how House members and staff work closely together at the Capitol, we should have been made aware of this much sooner.”
Mike Straub, a spokesman for House Republicans, told The Washington Post in an emailed statement that GOP officials implemented guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
“Anyone who met those guidelines was notified and quarantined,” Straub said.
Straub declined to specify which legislators were notified or how many, citing medical privacy laws, but he noted that tracing the people Lewis had come into contact with at the Capitol in the days before the lawmaker tested positive was “easily verified.”
In a Facebook live stream Wednesday night, Lewis said he was at the Capitol for a couple hours on May 14 and only interacted with a handful of people.
“I had no idea that I may have been exposed. I had no symptoms,” Lewis said. “I wore a mask. I did not shake any hands.”
But that weekend, Lewis started to feel unwell, displaying symptoms that included a fever, fatigue and a slight cough. Within days, he had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease covid-19.
Lewis said he waited until Wednesday to go public with his diagnosis because he felt that the people he might have exposed “deserved a little window of time to get tested, do their isolation and those types of things.”
One such person was GOP state Rep. Russ Diamond, who disclosed Wednesday in a lengthy Facebook post that he had been self-quarantining since May 21. Earlier that day, Diamond, a vocal opponent of wearing masks, had addressed a Pennsylvania House committee in person barefaced, Spotlight PA reported.
“Upon receiving that notice, I voluntarily cancelled every in-person meeting or other engagement I had on my schedule through today,” wrote Diamond, noting he did not know the identity of the person who tested positive. Diamond told Spotlight PA he does not have any symptoms and did not get tested.
“I am not ill. In fact, I feel like a million bucks,” he wrote on Facebook, later adding: “I’m done. My self-quarantine ends today. Tomorrow, I will be back in Harrisburg.”
Similarly, Lewis said in his Wednesday statement that he had “fully recovered” and feels “completely fine.”
Meanwhile, state Democrats were appalled that their Republican colleagues did not promptly inform them of Lewis’s positive test result or the subsequent self-quarantines of other GOP members, instead allowing them to potentially risk exposure by continuing to participate in person in voting sessions and House committee meetings. Several Democrats said Wednesday they only became aware of Lewis’s diagnosis from the media.
“I just spent the better part of the last 11 weeks sitting across a room from people who would eventually test positive and decided not to tell us,” state Democratic Rep. Brian K. Sims said in a video live-streamed on Facebook. “They did do some kind of quarantine. They did do some kind of contact tracing. They, I guess, being Republican leadership.”
Sims, who at times grew visibly angry and repeatedly used expletives, attacked House Republicans for being “callous liars” and accused them of recklessly endangering lives in pursuit of partisan goals.
“Every single day that our gerrymandered Republican leadership has been calling us up into this building so they could pass these ridiculous bills pretending that it was safe to be out there, they were covering up that it wasn’t safe,” he said, referencing efforts from GOP lawmakers pushing to reopen Pennsylvania. “You have no idea how the people around you are impacted.”
LIVE: I never thought I’d see a day like This at work!Posted by Brian Sims on Wednesday, May 27, 2020
State Rep. Dan B. Frankel, minority chairman of the House Health Committee, said in a statement that he was “horrified to learn that members of the General Assembly failed to do the right thing.” Frankel said Democrats only discovered Wednesday that four Republican legislators were self-quarantining.
“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,” Frankel said.
“The virus doesn’t care about someone’s ideology,” he added. “The virus doesn’t care if you believe in it.”
According to most recent figures, Pennsylvania has more than 69,000 cases of coronavirus and roughly 5,200 reported deaths.
Wednesday’s revelation prompted a number of Democrats to call for the resignation of Republican leaders, including Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai, a demand that was supported by U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.).
“The utter indifference to peoples’ lives” shown by House Republicans “proves that they are incapable, unqualified, and unwilling to faithfully discharge the duties of their office,” state Rep. Leanne Krueger (D) said in a statement.
Others urged the state attorney general to launch an investigation into the incident.
“We should know if any criminal or ethical laws were broken,” tweeted state Rep. Kevin J. Boyle, a Democrat who chairs a House committee on which both Lewis and Diamond sit.
But for Democratic Rep. Jennifer O’Mara, the decision whether to disclose details of Lewis’s test results to all House members should not have had anything to do with politics. “This isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue. This is a human being issue,” O’Mara said. “My colleagues decided to keep information about public health from us, putting all of us at an unnecessary risk.”
Derek Hawkins contributed to this report.