Rand Paul, the Republican senator from Kentucky, has tested positive for covid-19, becoming the U.S. Senate’s first confirmed member with the disease. Paul is the third member of Congress to test positive, and serves as a striking reminder that covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is spreading far and wide throughout the country.
Paul’s office announced that he tested positive on Twitter on Sunday. His office said that he was asymptomatic, in quarantine and feeling fine. According to the message, Paul was tested “out of an abundance of caution due to his extensive travel and events” and was not aware of any direct contact with anyone infected. Paul is expected to be back in the Senate after his quarantine ends.
The senator’s office added that its D.C. office had begun operating remotely 10 days ago and that “virtually no staff” has had contact with Paul. Besides Paul, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Florida, and Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, have also tested positive for covid-19.
Notably, shortly after Paul’s announcement, CNN reported that Republican senators had been unsettled to learn about their colleague’s diagnosis. Some said that Paul had been in the gym Sunday morning and had been swimming in the Senate pool. Others said that he had sat very close to others at Senate lunches in recent days.
Paul’s office denied that he had behaved irresponsibly and said that he left the Senate immediately after he learned he had covid-19.
“He had zero contact with anyone and went into quarantine. Insinuations such as those below that he went to the gym after learning of his results are just completely false and irresponsible!” Paul’s office wrote on Twitter in response to a tweet from a Washington Post reporter.
The Washington Post reports that Paul’s deputy chief of staff Sergio Gor said that the senator received his test results on Sunday morning. Gor said that as soon as Paul got the results, he left the building.
Besides the worry caused over Paul’s whereabouts, questions have been raised over how he was able to get a test given that he’s asymptomatic. National health officials have said that priority should be given to healthcare workers, people that are hospitalized, nursing home residents that show symptoms and people over 65, especially those with heart and lung disease.
POLITICO reports that although Paul was initially tested out of caution, Paul’s staff said later that the senator had attended an event where two people tested positive, although he did not recall specific interactions with either of them.
In addition, Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) are now in self-quarantine after close interactions with Paul. As such, neither Paul, Lee or Romney will be able to vote on the Senate floor.
While Lee said that the Capitol’s attending physician had said a coronavirus test was not needed in his case because he had no symptoms or other risk factors, Romney’s office said that he would be tested even though he also has no symptoms. In a statement on Twitter, Romney’s office said that the senator had sat next to Paul for extended periods in recent days.
Given that multiple congressional staffers have tested positive for the coronavirus, it is likely that it has been circulating in Capitol for a while now. This is very troubling considering that — although Congressional offices are working from home, visitors are restricted and tours are canceled — there are hundreds of people in the Capitol everyday. This includes Capitol police, food preparation workers and cleaning staff, per POLITICO.
The fact that the virus has reached the Senate is sobering. According to the Congressional Research Service, the average age of senators is 62.9 years. Nearly half of them are 65 years old or older, which means they are at higher risk of developing severe illness from covid-19. Some lawmakers have pushed for remote voting, a measure that received support from President Donald Trump in a press conference on Sunday.
The Senate is currently working on a more than $1 trillion dollar stimulus package to help families and businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic. As of Sunday, no agreement had been reached yet.