Congress sees signs of Covid-19 spike following Capitol riots

Congress sees signs of Covid-19 spike following Capitol riots

At least three Democratic members of Congress have tested positive for Covid-19 since sheltering with GOP colleagues who refused to wear masks as the U.S. Capitol was overrun with a Trump-supporting mob last week.

Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) announced this week they have tested positive, joining Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, who announced her positive test on Monday.

Democratic lawmakers and staffers have been bracing for a rash of new positive cases in Congress — which has scores of older members and people with underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk of serious Covid-19 complications — and are furious at Republicans who have repeatedly downplayed the threat posed by the virus. Watson Coleman, for example, is a 75-year-old cancer survivor.

“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,” Schneider wrote Tuesday on Twitter after announcing his diagnosis.

The growing case count threatens to further escalate partisan tensions amid a breakneck impeachment push led by Democrats to deliver a final blow to President Donald Trump over his role in the riot, which left five people dead and imperiled Vice President Mike Pence as he presided over a joint session of Congress that afternoon.

Jayapal said she supports a burgeoning effort to impose stricter penalties on those who do not wear masks while working in the capitol, including fines and prohibiting them from being on the congressional floor.

“This is not a joke. 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,” she said in a statement.

Schneider similarly called for stiffened enforcement against those who refuse to wear masks.

Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Anthony Brown (D-Md.) on Tuesday introduced legislation to impose a $1,000 per day fine on members of Congress who refuse to wear masks on Capitol grounds for the duration of the pandemic.

“We’re done playing games,” Dingell said in a release. “Either have some common sense and wear a damn mask or pay a fine. It’s not that complicated.”

Several Republicans were seen, in a video first published by Punchbowl News, not wearing masks in the secure room and rejecting an entreaty by Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) to cover their faces. The mask-less contingent “absolutely” put lives at risk, Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) said Tuesday.

“Even if there wasn’t a domestic terror attack underway, it’s more than clear at this point that you have to wear a mask to protect people around you,” he said on CNN. “So, of course they did, and they chose to do it anyway.”

Over the weekend, all House members and their staff were instructed to get tested following possible exposure to the virus as they shielded themselves from the mob of rioters who stormed the Capitol on Wednesday.

Several members, including Jayapal, had preemptively sequestered themselves following the event.

Members of Congress and their staff had access to Covid-19 vaccinations, a much-criticized allocation that arrived as doses remain in short supply, but it is unclear how many have gotten the second shot in the two-dose regimen.

President-elect Joe Biden received his second dose on Monday after receiving the first shot in the days leading up to Christmas.

An incoming member of Congress, Luke Letlow, died of coronavirus complications in late December before he took his oath of office, and dozens of sitting members of Congress have tested positive since the pandemic started last year.

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