WASHINGTON – After a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol last week, forcing Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., to take shelter in a crowded committee room, she began preparing for the worst.
Many of the GOP members of Congress hiding out with her were not wearing masks, she said, and had refused to accept them from a colleague. So, soon after Congress affirmed President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral victory later that night, she began to quarantine, fearing she could have contracted the coronavirus.
Her prediction turned to be right. Late Monday night, Jayapal announced that she had tested positive, making her the second Democratic representative to do so this week, after New Jersey Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman.
The two diagnoses come after Brian Monahan, the attending physician to Congress, warned over the weekend that lawmakers may have been exposed to the virus while taking cover from the rioters.
Jayapal, who said she was locked down in a committee room for hours with more than 100 people, placed the blame squarely on some of her GOP colleagues.
“Too many Republicans have refused to take this pandemic and virus seriously, and in doing so, they endanger everyone around them,” Jayapal said, accusing them of”creating a superspreader event on top of a domestic terrorist attack.”
Her statement pointed to a video published by Punchbowl News on Friday, which showed several maskless Republicans in the room with her – including Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Michael Cloud of Texas, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania – refusing surgical masks from Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del.
“I’m not trying to get political here,” Mullin can be heard saying in the video, before telling her: “I’ll come over there and hug you.”
Within two days of the Capitol siege, Jayapal told the Cut that she had begun quarantining, convinced that she could have been exposed to the virus in that room.
Several public health experts echoed the congresswoman’s assertion that the locked-in room could have served as a “superspreader event.” The coronavirus is surging in the United States. As of early on Tuesday, more than 22.5 million infections in the United States have been reported, and at least 374,000 people have died, according to data tracked by The Washington Post.
In an email to lawmakers on Sunday, Monahan said that all those”in protective isolation in room located in a large committee hearing space” may have been exposed to someone with the virus. He advised them to seek a coronavirus test and continue to monitor for symptoms while wearing masks.
Coleman, a 75-year-old cancer survivor, said she was isolating at home with “mild, cold-like symptoms” after taking shelter during the riots in a room with lawmakers who had refused to wear masks.
Jayapal did not say if she was experiencing symptoms but noted that she would continue to work “to the best of my ability” while in quarantine.
While Jayapal received her first dose of a vaccine on Jan. 4, that shot alone is not enough to make her immune to the virus. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require a second dose, six weeks after the first, to be fully effective.
Scientists have also made it clear that vaccine protections do not kick in overnight. For that reason, public health officials have recommended that all those who have been vaccinated must continue to practice social distancing and wear masks in public.
With most members of Congress and some of their staff members having received at least one shot, those guidelines were not lost on Jayapal.
In her statement on Monday, she said that any lawmaker who refuses to wear a mask inside the Capitol should be fined and removed from the floor by the sergeant-at-arms. (The Committee on House Administration already says it is a “critical necessity” to mask up while indoors at the Capitol.)
“This is not a joke,” she added. “Our lives and our livelihoods are at risk, and anyone who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable for endangering our lives because of their selfish idiocy.”
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