Five members of Congress who learned they came into contact with people testing positive for the coronavirus have chosen to “self-quarantine” for the remainder of the week as fears mount on Capitol Hill over a growing outbreak that could threaten daily operations.
Four Republicans – Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida – are all choosing to stay at home due to proximity to an attendee at last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference who tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The conservative confab draws thousands of attendees to a multi-day conference in Maryland’s National Harbor, where both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence spoke.
All four members said they aren’t experiencing any symptoms but voluntarily chose to self-quarantine out of an abundance of caution. Most are closing down their Washington, D.C., offices and working remotely for the rest of the 14-day time period since attending CPAC, which was held from Feb. 26-29.
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“This afternoon, I was notified by CPAC that they discovered a photo of myself and the patient who has tested positive for coronavirus,” Collins said in a Monday statement. “While I feel completely healthy and I am not experiencing any symptoms, I have decided to self-quarantine at my home for the remainder of the 14-day period out of an abundance of caution.”
Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley of California has also decided to self-quarantine after learning she came into contact with someone in Washington who has tested positive for the virus. She will also work remotely for the rest of the week and close her office on Capitol Hill.
Following the news, photos started circulating of specific members recently coming into contact with Trump. Collins, who is running for Senate in Georgia, shook the president’s hand on Friday. He learned of his exposure to the CPAC attendee on Monday. And Gaetz was on Air Force One with Trump earlier on Monday but learned of his contact with the conference attendee not long after takeoff, according to The New York Times.
Last week, Gaetz wore a gas mask on the House floor as the House voted on an $8.3 billion bill for emergency coronavirus funding, which overwhelmingly passed both chambers and has been signed into law by Trump. The congressman has denied that he was making light of the outbreak but nevertheless took criticism for the move after one of his constituents died from COVID-19.
“Congressman Gaetz had expected COVID-19 to impact Congress, given the elevated frequency of travel and human contact, and demonstrated his concern last week on the House floor,” his office tweeted Monday afternoon.
The spread of the coronavirus outbreak has gripped Capitol Hill with growing pressure to postpone or cancel votes for several weeks. Some have expressed concerns over the heavy travel schedules of members who come into contact with hundreds of constituents while home as well as the overall foot traffic in the building with thousands of staffers, reporters and visitors.
But so far, House leadership has indicated that they’ll continue with business as usual while remaining in contact with the congressional physician’s office and other public health experts.
“We want to keep our people safe,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland told reporters Monday, according to The Hill. “But at this point in time we are not considering – we don’t have any advice that tells us that we ought to shut down, not have sessions, not have the Capitol open.”