Democrats accuse GOP of hiding lawmaker’s positive coronavirus test, not informing colleagues

Harrisburg

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Coronavirus has made its way to the state Capitol.

Rep. Andrew Lewis (R-Dauphin) said on Wednesday he tested positive for Covid-19 on May 20. He had suffered mild, flu-like symptoms and was tested on May 18. It came back affirmative two days later.

In a statement, Lewis said, “I immediately began self-isolation protocol and contacted the House of Representatives, and our caucus Human Resources department. My last day in the Capitol was Thursday, May 14. I can confirm every member or staff member who met the criteria for exposure was immediately contacted and required to self-isolate for 14 days from their date of possible exposure.”

Also required to quarantine because of proximity to Lewis, ABC27 has learned, were fellow Republican Representatives Frank Ryan and Russ Diamond, both of Lebanon County.

Their self-imposed quarantine ends Thursday, May 28 and both said they have not had symptoms but have also not been tested. They were notified by a caucus email that they had come in contact with an infected person although Lewis was not named.

The contact with Lewis happened on May 14, one day before a Reopen PA rally organized by Diamond. He was a featured speaker and stood just above hundreds of ralliers, many of whom were not practicing social distancing or wearing masks.

Diamond said he is anxious to return to the Capitol and will have more to say Thursday when his two weeks come to an end. Diamond has also eschewed mask-wearing during the pandemic, calling it unnecessary, even posting online about shopping without a mask.

The caucus-ordered quarantine has been shrouded in secrecy. Few people knew of the reason behind the lawmaker’s absence from the House floor this week.

House Democrats expressed outrage that they weren’t notified even though their members had attended committee meetings and shared the floor with Lewis and the others now in quarantine.

Many wondered if they came in contact with Lewis and question why they, too, weren’t notified to quarantine.

“Republican leadership, knowing this weeks ago failed to inform the rest of the General Assembly, in particular the Democratic caucus,” said State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny County), who serves as democratic chairman on the House Health Committee.

He said Wednesday, the same day his caucus learned of Lewis’ positive test, that Democrats are now reviewing meeting videos.

“To take a look at who was in those committees, what kind of interactions there were,” Frankel said. “We’re gonna rely on what we know we need to do for our state. People are jeopardized because of irresponsible decision making, partisan decision making.”

Democratic Leader Frank Dermody said he and other House members were shocked to find that a fellow member tested positive for coronavirus.

“Knowing how House members and staff work closely together at the Capitol, we should have been made aware of this much sooner. We should not have learned of it from a media report,” Dermody said in a release.

Lewis contends that privacy was a priority for him. “Out of respect for my family, and those who I may have exposed, I chose to keep my positive case private. Now that I have fully recovered and completed the quarantine as required by the Department of Health, I feel now is the appropriate time to share this information with the public and my constituents. I look forward to being a resource in sharing my experiences with COVID-19 and helping our community navigate this crisis together. I feel very fortunate to report I suffered only mild symptoms, a fever that lasted roughly 24 hours, and a brief cough. I feel completely fine and I look forward to fully resuming my duties to the people of the 105th district.”

We reached out to a spokesman for Republican leadership asking why the positive COVID-19 diagnosis was not shared with Democratic colleagues until a week later, when that member chose to disclose his own medical history. Below is their full reply:

“We followed data and science, implementing the guidelines from the CDC and PA Dept of Health, in line with exactly what Gov. Wolf requires from any business that wishes to operate. Anyone who met those guidelines was notified and quarantined.

In terms of who was notified – a person’s personal medical history or condition is protected by HIPAA law, so we would be breaking the law if we announced anything about his medical status, or even information that could lead to him being identified. He chose to make his test public today. That being said, we followed CDC and PA DoH guidelines in developing our protocols which say…

Identify employees that were in close contact (within about 6 feet) with a person with a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19 from the period 48 hours before symptom onset. Any such close contacts will be notified and instructed to monitor themselves for symptoms (fever, persistent dry cough, and shortness of breath). If an employee develops symptoms, that employee should notify Human Resources and will be instructed not to come to work for 14 days from the onset of symptoms.

The 48 hours before symptoms onset is worth nothing. By that timeline, 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, and as he said in his statement, anyone who needed to be notified was notified and is currently self-isolating.

Michael Straub | Press Secretary for House Republican Caucus

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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