I am angry that after I spent months carefully isolating myself, a single chaotic day likely got me sick. 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.
When I left for Washington last week, it was my first trip there in several months. I had a list of things to accomplish, including getting my picture taken for the card I use when voting on the House floor. For the past two years, I appeared on that card completely bald as a result of the chemotherapy I underwent to eliminate the cancer in my right lung. It was because of that preexisting condition that I relied so heavily on the proxy voting the House agreed to last year, when we first began to understand the danger of covid-19.
I was nervous about spending a week among so many people who regularly flout social distancing and mask guidelines, but I could not have imagined the horror of what happened on Jan. 6.
To isolate as much as possible, I planned to spend much of my day in my apartment, shuttling to the House floor to vote. But the building shares an alley with the Republican National Committee, where, we’d later learn, law enforcement found a pipe bomb. I was evacuated from that location early in the afternoon.
The next best option would have been my office in the Cannon House Office Building, where just three of my staffers worked at their desks to ensure safe distancing. Before I arrived, security evacuated that building as well, forcing us to linger in the hallways and cafeteria spaces of the House complex. As I’m sure you can imagine, pushing the occupants of an entire building into a few public spaces doesn’t make for great social distancing. Twice, I admonished groups of congressional staff to put on their masks. Some of these staffers gave me looks of derision, but slowly complied.
My staff and I then decided that the Capitol building would likely be the safest place to go, since it would be the most secure and least likely to be crowded. I’ve spent a lot of time since in utter disbelief at how wrong those assumptions turned out to be.
Everyone knows what happened next: A mob broke through windows and doors and beat a U.S. Capitol Police officer, then went on a rampage. Members and staff took cover wherever we could, ducking into offices throughout the building, then were told to move to a safer holding location.
I use “safer” because, while we might have been protected from the insurrectionists, we were not safe from the callousness of members of Congress who, having encouraged the sentiments that inspired the riot, now ignored requests to wear masks.
I’ve been asked if I will share the names of those members. You’ve probably seen video of some of them laughing at my colleague and friend Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) as she tries to distribute masks. But it’s not their names that matter.
What matters are facts, both about the covid-19 pandemic and the conduct of the 2020 election:
You can, in fact, breathe through a mask. Doctors have been doing it for decades. It is occasionally annoying — my glasses tend to fog, and when I wear makeup and a mask, I end up with smudged lipstick. That is a small price to pay for the safety of those around me.
You can, in fact, count on a mask to reduce the chances of spreading the virus. Studies of how many droplets escape into the air and the rates of infection following the implementation of mask mandates both prove effectiveness.
Refusing to wear a mask is not, in fact, an act of self-expression. It’s an act of public endangerment. The chaos you create in exercising your so-called freedom can cause permanent, deadly damage. I only hope that won’t be the case for me and my colleagues, Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), who have also tested positive for the coronavirus.
When I say that many Republicans are responsible for what happened to me, to others and to the country last week, I mean their essential failure to accept facts led us here. Much like they should be able to accept the results of an election, elected leaders should be able to accept facts like the efficacy of masks. It’s clearly time for a congressional campuswide mask requirement, enforced by the House and Senate sergeants at arms.
Facts really do matter. I hope to get back to work soon to make sure we respect them.
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