Two Democratic congresswomen who tested positive this week for COVID-19 have each identified last Wednesday’s Capitol siege as the likely point of exposure. Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington announced her positive test early Tuesday morning, shortly after New Jersey Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman confirmed Monday she had contracted the virus. Both congresswomen said they believed they contracted the virus while being forced to shelter in place with maskless Republican lawmakers as pro-Trump supporters stormed the Capitol. During the rioting, as many as 150 members were rushed to a secure location where many Republicans simply refused to wear a mask. Some lawmakers were huddled in the large safe room for hours as the incursion played out.
At one point, footage taken during the lockdown showed Republicans standing and sitting shoulder to shoulder. Video captured Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, a Delaware Democrat, walking around the room offering face coverings to colleagues, but to no avail. Oklahoma Republican Rep. Markwayne Mullin explicitly refused to take a mask, saying, “I’m not trying to get political here, but I appreciate you.” The newly elected GOP congresswoman from Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene, a founding member of the congressional QAnon conspiracy theorist caucus, stood next to Mullin with her arms crossed.
The problems with this scene are plain and manifold. Rep. Jake LaTurner, Republican of Kansas, said he received positive coronavirus test results later that evening after spending the day in the Capitol, though his office said he was not taken to the secure location. LaTurner had been sworn in for his first term in office three days earlier. LaTurner’s Republican colleague, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee, also received positive test results Wednesday night after, he said, coming into contact with “another infected Member of Congress.” When asked about refusing to wear a mask, Greene’s office said in a statement: “Congresswoman Greene is a healthy adult. … She does not believe healthy Americans should be forced to muzzle themselves with a mask.” And away we go.
Over the weekend the attending physician to Congress warned lawmakers of the risk posed by their extended exposure during the pro-Trump supporters’ attack. “On Wednesday January 6, many members of the House community were in protective isolation in room located in a large committee hearing space,” the attending physician wrote in an email to members of Congress Sunday morning. “The time in this room was several hours for some and briefer for others. During this time, individuals may have been exposed to another occupant with coronavirus infection.”