Democrats in Pennsylvania's House of Representatives on Thursday accused Republicans of keeping a lawmaker's positive coronavirus test a secret to avoid political embarrassment, even at the risk of exposing their Democratic colleagues.
A Republican House member, Andrew Lewis, confirmed Wednesday that he received a positive test on May 20 and went into self-isolation. Lewis said that every lawmaker or staff member he had been in contact with who "met the criteria for exposure" was notified.
But Democrats disputed that, saying none of their own members were alerted even though some were in proximity to Lewis in committee meetings.
The House Democratic campaign arm accused Republicans of keeping Lewis' positive test a secret "to protect their public talking points against science and facts." Another Republican representative, Russ Diamond, who said he was notified of possible exposure, spoke at an anti-shutdown protest outside the Capitol last month and had reported on social media he did not wear a mask while shopping.
In an emotional and profanity-laced Facebook video recorded in his office at the Capitol, Rep. Brian K. Sims, D-Philadelphia, said Diamond had "apparently been quarantining himself for weeks" but "didn't explain that to any of us when he was in committee, talking with us or walking up and down the aisles or bumping into us or letting us hold the door open for him."
"How dare you put our lives at risk?" Sims said, noting that he had recently donated a kidney. "How dare you put our families at risk?"
Lewis said that after experiencing "mild flu-like symptoms," he sought a test on May 18. He kept his positive diagnosis private "out of respect for my family, and those who I may have exposed," he wrote on Facebook. He also said that May 14 had been his last day in the Capitol and that as of Wednesday, he was fully recovered and ended his quarantine.
Rep. Kevin J. Boyle, the Democratic chairman of the state government committee, said he sat near Lewis about a week before his positive test, and had not been told. "The fact the Republican caucus didn't inform the Democratic caucus is deeply reckless and immoral," he said.
Republican lawmakers, including Lewis, have introduced bills seeking to weaken the emergency shutdown orders of Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat.
A spokesman for House Republicans, Mike Straub, said that state and federal guidelines were followed in determining who to notify, specifically anyone in close contact with Lewis in the 48 hours before his symptoms began. "Rep. Lewis was only in the Capitol for a short period of time within that window -- so tracing who he was in contact with was easily verified," Straub said in a statement.
Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, a Democrat, disputed that Lewis had quarantined himself after his diagnosis. "We have footage of him being here," he said.
Bizzarro, who went for a test Thursday in Harrisburg, the capital, added: "The thing that was just infuriating about this whole situation is that we found out the Republican caucus leadership knew about this and tried to bury it."
Some Democrats have called for the House speaker, Mike Turzai, to resign. In his video, Sims called Turzai a "scoundrel" and demanded that Attorney General Josh Shapiro open an investigation.
A spokesman for Turzai did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A Section on 05/29/2020
Print Headline: GOP hid virus case, Pennsylvania lawmakers claim