At least nine House Democrats have announced in the past five days that they tested positive for the coronavirus, with more than half of those cases emerging after lawmakers attended a party retreat last week in Philadelphia.
It is unclear what drove the wave of cases or where the representatives had been infected. But members of the House spent hours on the floor without masks for votes that stretched late into the night last Wednesday before Democrats boarded buses to travel to their gathering.
The infections offered a jarring reminder that, even as top officials seek to pivot away from strict restrictions and encourage Americans to learn to live with the coronavirus, the pandemic rages on.
Even as reports of the infections circulated on Capitol Hill and cases continued to spike globally, there was little indication that officials at the White House or in Congress would reimpose a series of precautions that they have just begun to roll back. It reflects decisions across the country, where leaders are dropping pandemic-era restrictions and mandates.
The White House on Tuesday announced that public tours would resume in April, after being suspended at the start of the pandemic. On the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue, senior lawmakers and officials on Capitol Hill are discussing plans to reopen the building to tourists, according to aides briefed on the discussions, after House Democrats moved this month to lift a mask mandate in their chamber.
Fully vaccinated lawmakers will not be required to wear a mask Wednesday, as members of the House and Senate gather in a joint session for a virtual address by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine. (Unvaccinated lawmakers will have to wear a mask, though it is unclear how rigorously that will be enforced.)
Reps. Jared Golden of Maine, Joe Neguse of Colorado and Andy Kim of New Jersey announced within an hour of one another Tuesday morning that they had tested positive for the coronavirus. Neguse attended the retreat along with four others who reported testing positive in recent days: Reps. Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania, Zoe Lofgren of California, Kim Schrier of Washington and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut.
Two other House Democrats, Reps. Gerry Connolly of Virginia and Peter Welch of Vermont, also said they tested positive Friday and Monday, respectively. They were not present at the retreat, according to a person in attendance who insisted on anonymity to discuss attendance at the private gathering.
Representatives, their staff members and their families were required to take PCR or rapid antigen tests before the event, and attendees were required to take rapid tests in their hotel rooms Thursday and Friday.
President Joe Biden delivered an in-person speech at the retreat Friday. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that because all representatives at the retreat were vaccinated, a change in the president’s behavior would not be warranted according to CDC guidelines. She reiterated that Biden received a negative test result Sunday.
Many members of the House were also together on the floor late Wednesday night to pass a major spending bill before they departed for Philadelphia, though it is unclear which members were physically present as remote voting was allowed. Most of the Democrats who tested positive emphasized that they were vaccinated, and said it was a reminder that the pandemic was not yet over.
“I caught COVID on 2yr anniversary of pandemic,” Kim wrote on Twitter. “Yes I feel miserable. Woke up in middle of night with fever, but I’m not scared like I would have been year or 2 ago. That doesn’t mean I’m not worried.”
The outbreak among House Democrats comes amid rising concerns about a surge in coronavirus cases in parts of Europe and Asia, as well as warnings from public health experts that the U.S. could see a summer or fall surge. The Democrats were joined Tuesday by a Republican colleague, Fred Upton of Michigan, who said on Twitter that he was experiencing mild symptoms after a “routine test” came back positive.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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