WASHINGTON – Two members of Congress, Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ben McAdams, have tested positive for coronavirus in one day, causing other members who may have been exposed to go into self-quarantine and raising the question of whether there are more cases on Capitol Hill.
Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., announced Wednesday that he tested positive for COVID-19, becoming the first known member of Congress to contract the rapidly spreading virus.
Shortly after, McAdams, D-Utah, announced that he has also tested positive.
Diaz-Balart, 58, who represents parts of Miami and South Florida, said in a statement that he decided to self-quarantine in Washington Friday night after voting with hundreds of his colleagues on the House floor for a coronavirus relief package. He said he decided to stay in Washington because his wife has pre-existing conditions, and thus is more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus.
Diaz-Balart said that the following day, he started to show symptoms that included a fever and headache. He was notified on Wednesday that he tested positive for the coronavirus. In the statement, Diaz-Balart did not indicate where he may have contracted the illness, nor why he decided to self-quarantine.
“I want everyone to know that I am feeling much better,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement. “However, it is important that everyone take this extremely seriously and follow CDC guidelines in order to avoid getting sick and mitigate the spread of this virus. We must continue to work together to emerge stronger as a country during these trying times.”
McAdams, 45, said he started developing mild symptoms Saturday after returning from Washington, D.C., and immediately began isolating himself after consultation with his doctor.
“On Tuesday, my doctor instructed me to get tested for COVID-19 and following his referral, I went to the local testing clinic for the test,” he said in a statement. “Today I learned that I tested positive.
“I Urge Utahns to take this seriously and follow the health recommendations we’re getting from the CDC and other health experts so that we can recover from this public threat,” his statement concludes.
The announcements triggered a domino effect. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said in a statement that because he had contact with Diaz-Balart in an extended meeting last week, he would self-quarantine “based on the guidance of the Attending Physician of the United States Congress.” Scalise said he was not exhibiting symptoms.
Dr. Brian Monahan, the attending physician, also notified Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-Ga., that he has had contact with a member of Congress who was positive for coronavirus.
“After heeding the advice of the President, Governor Kemp and at the direction of the House physician, I will self-quarantine until March 27th. I am asymptomatic and will continue to work from my home in West Point, Ga.,” Ferguson said.
The attending physician is attempting to identify any individuals who had contact with the members who tested positive, according to guidance from Office of the Attending Physician sent by House officials to members.
Brief contact between colleagues such as on the House floor is considered “low-risk,” the physician’s office said, and doesn’t require specific medical action other than to report any illness. Locations within the Capitol “found to be at risk” have been treated by the Architect of the Capitol, “using CDC approved cleaning methods to ensure there is no residual risk to others.”
“It reflects the pace of the COVID-19 disease throughout the United States and its presence here in Washington, D.C., that it has touched the community of the U.S. Capitol,” the guidance said.
Members of Congress have been worried about the prospects of contracting the virus, with some arguing that lawmakers should be able to vote remotely to avoid traveling back and forth to Washington. At least 15 lawmakers so far have gone into self-quarantine after coming into contact or being in the vicinity of someone who has tested positive for the virus.
Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have shot down the idea. Both chambers have instead moved to make voting safer by attempting to limit the numbers of lawmakers on the floor of the House and Senate. Many lawmakers have also told their staff to work remotely in hopes of limiting interaction.
The infections come as Congress begins work on a third legislative package that will offer more help for Americans and businesses that are hurting due to the virus.