Paul even squeezed in a round of golf at a private club on an unseasonably warm spring day in Northern Virginia late last week and worked out Sunday in the senators-only gym at the Capitol Hill complex just hours before he was informed that he had indeed tested positive for covid-19, the disease the virus causes.
On Monday, Paul was defiant that he did nothing wrong, despite bipartisan criticism for his behavior and even sharper private furor among senators and aides because he had potentially exposed them to a virus whose debilitating effect on the nation’s health and economy lawmakers were working so ferociously to combat.
Paul’s diagnosis has landed at least two other senators in self-quarantine and prompted others to seek medical guidance from the congressional physician. It has only deepened the sense of urgency and fear at an already panicked Capitol, where lawmakers were scrambling to finalize a roughly $2 trillion package to rescue an economy that is at risk of cratering as the coronavirus continues to spread.
“For those who want to criticize me for lack of quarantine, realize that if the rules on testing had been followed to a T, I would never have been tested and would still be walking around the halls of the Capitol,” Paul said in a lengthy statement Monday. “The current guidelines would not have called for me to get tested nor quarantined.”
He added: “It was my extra precaution, out of concern for my damaged lung, that led me to get tested.”
Paul, an ophthalmologist, is the first senator to announce he has been diagnosed with the coronavirus, while at least two members of the House also have tested positive. But the immediate repercussions of the 57-year-old’s diagnosis were in much sharper view.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) — who sat with Paul during the Republicans’ lunch Thursday and had what an aide described as an “extended conversation” with the senator on Friday — said he will go into self-quarantine. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who also had close contact with Paul, is similarly isolating himself for 14 days.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) spoke with the Office of the Attending Physician, the chief doctor at the Capitol, on Sunday evening and “shared the duration and nature of his interactions” with Paul, a spokesman for Rubio said. The physician’s office determined Rubio did not need to quarantine.
After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) alerted Republican senators at a closed-door meeting Sunday that Paul had tested positive for the virus, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) informed Republicans that he had seen Paul at the members-only gym in the Russell Senate Office Building earlier that morning.
A spokesman has not commented directly on Paul’s visit to that gym but noted that “as soon as he got the results, he left the building.”
A notice distributed to Senate offices Thursday and obtained by The Washington Post said all Senate health and fitness facilities had shuttered to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, but two officials said the senators-only gym can still be accessed with a keypad.
“There’s disappointment he went to the gym,” said Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). “It’s very disappointing.”
The impact of Paul’s behavior rippled miles away from the Capitol and into Northern Virginia, where members of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville were notified Monday that Paul had golfed there Thursday. Politico first reported the news of the senator’s golf outing.
One member of the club told The Post that Paul appeared to have little contact with others there. The clubhouse already had been scheduled to shut down Friday, but the club went ahead Monday with additional cleaning and disinfecting after the news of Paul’s diagnosis.
“His exposure to individuals was very, very minimal,” said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose information about a private golf club.
Paul was present for the four votes that occurred in the Senate — all on Wednesday. The senator was also spotted attending the GOP lunch on Thursday and Friday.
The senator and his aides have maintained that Paul has not shown the symptoms of someone diagnosed with the virus — such as a fever, cough or shortness of breath — and that he was tested out of an abundance of caution because of his travel. A part of Paul’s lung was surgically removed last year following injuries he suffered in 2017, when a neighbor assaulted him.
But his unwillingness to self-quarantine diverged from the decisions made by other members of Congress to isolate themselves while they awaited their test results, such as Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who quarantined until they learned they did not have the virus.
Paul’s office initially said the senator decided to get tested after attending a March 7 fundraiser for a Louisville art museum, where at least three attendees later tested positive. Paul did not have contact with the guests at the Speed Art Museum event who were eventually diagnosed, according to his office and other fundraiser attendees.
His statement on Monday diverged from the initial explanation, saying his extensive travel and compromised lung from the surgery seven months ago prompted him to get tested.
Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), who also attended the Louisville fundraiser with hundreds of others at the spacious museum, confirmed Paul’s account, saying in an interview that he did not see Paul have any contact with those who were later found to test positive for the coronavirus.
Another person at the event said Paul sat in another part of the large room and was not seen interacting at the table with those officials or the positive carriers.
Yarmuth himself was in proximity to those diagnosed. He was tested March 15 and was found to not have the virus one day later. But he said he continued to quarantine for the 14-day period even though his test returned negative.
“I would say he probably had less reason to worry about [contracting the virus] than I did,” Yarmuth said of Paul. Still, “if he had any reason to believe that he was potentially positive, then yeah, that would not have been the smart thing to do.”
Paul said Monday that he requested the test March 16 in Washington, but he has not disclosed the doctor he went to for the test. The Capitol’s Office of the Attending Physician, who cares for members of the House and Senate, has a policy that only those showing symptoms should be tested.
“The Office of Attending Physician (OAP) follows prevailing medical practice guidelines for testing individuals who may have the coronavirus infection,” reads the OAP’s website, which is available on an internal congressional network. “At the OAP, individuals considered for testing must exhibit symptoms.”
Other members of Congress, including Gaetz and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the incoming White House chief of staff, were tested for the coronavirus while being asymptomatic through the White House physician. But both had been in proximity to President Trump, who said at a news conference Sunday that it has been “quite a while” since he was last in contact in person with Paul.
Rachael Bade contributed to this report.