Pennsylvania Democrats outraged after GOP lawmaker shares COVID-19 diagnosis

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Democratic state leaders in Pennsylvania are outraged over claims a Republican lawmaker kept them in the dark about having the coronavirus.

State Representative Andrew Lewis from Dauphin County said he tested positive on May 20 and informed the House of Representatives, as well as the Republican caucus' human relations department of his diagnosis.

He issued this statement Wednesday, May 27:

"Throughout this pandemic, our health officials have reminded us that it is likely many of us will contract COVID-19 and suffer mild, flu-like symptoms. On Monday, May 18, I was tested for COVID-19 and on Wednesday, May 20, I was notified that my test came back positive.

"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.

"We worked together and followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's workplace exposure guidelines to determine exactly who I may have been in contact with, and who I may have possibly exposed to the virus.

"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.

"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 and 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."

Just before 7 p.m. Wednesday, Democratic Representative Brian Sims of Philadelphia offered a charged response on Facebook Live from his office at the House of Representatives.

"Today has been one of those kinds of days where I hope in the years to come, the decades to come, after I finish serving in elected office that I hope I'm able to put out of my memory," Sims said. "I sort of don't exactly know where to begin."

An angered and frustrated Sims began his 12-minute response after finding out about the COVID-19 discovery, where he did not "mince his words."

"This morning, apparently, House Democratic leadership learned that for as much as a week, perhaps longer, that House Republican leadership knew that at least one of their members had tested positive for COVID-19, that other members who had been exposed to him would eventually go on quarantine, but they didn't go on quarantine until they were done serving alongside us, especially those of us that serve on the State Government Committee," Sims said.

"And every single day of this crisis, the State Government Committee in Pennsylvania has met so that their members could line up one after one after one and explain that it was safe to go back to work, it was safe to go back to race car driving or dog grooming or getting your hair cut. Meanwhile, what we're learning, is that during that time period they were testing positive. They were notifying one another and they didn't notify us."

Sims said, "Let me tell you why this is so (expletive) dangerous."

Sims revealed he donated a kidney in January to a neighbor with renal failure.

"You have no idea how the people around you are impacted and that's why it's so important to notify people," Sims said.

Sims called for the resignation of anyone who kept the COVID-19 diagnosis quiet and for a full investigation by the Attorney General and Secretary of Health.

"Any member of leadership that has known what was going on, any member of Republican leadership that knew that members were testing positive, that other members were being quarantined, and did not tell those of us who were exposed to those members needs to be investigated by the attorney general, and I think there needs to be prosecutions," Sims said.

Sims said there is no legislature in the country that has met more times than the Pennsylvania legislature. He said the State Government Committee has held the most meetings in the state legislature where he heard others say there were no risks with the virus.

"Holy (expletive). Holy (expletive). Exposing all of us up here to this crap, while covering up what was going on while simultaneously telling people, telling families that it was safe to be outside, that it was safe to be interacting with other people while you were testing positive, while you were quarantining people around you, while you were doing contact tracing and not notifying a single Democratic member who has to show up here every single day for this crap," Sims said.

Sims said the Democratic House of Representatives held a call with the Secretary to Health to make sure it was safe to go home to their families.

Sims told his Republican counterparts, "It's not your business to put my life at risk. It's not your business to put the lives of the children of our members at risk, of the spouses of our members at risk."

Sims called for the Republican caucus to ensure that every single member and their staff in the building are tested. He said it needs to be done immediately and paid for by the Republican caucus. Sims said the building needs to be shut down until there are health and legal investigations.

"How dare you put our lives at risk. How dare you put our families at risk and pretend it was about looking out for your own," Sims said.

Sims called this a coverup by the Republican leadership.

"Never thought I would find myself in a place where partisanship became deadly," Sims said.

Other Democratic state representatives have also shared their outrage over the situation.

"This was just exposed to @PaHouseDems from a media source! The @PAHouseGOP didnt even have the human decency to notify all house members! They have known for a week! This is unconscionable!" State Representative Austin Davis tweeted.

About an hour later, Lewis went live on his Facebook page to speak more about his diagnosis, his response, and who was told.

"There was a handful of people that I had been in contact with - and I hadn't gone to public events, hadn't gone to the rallies or anything like that, pretty private schedule," Lewis said.

Lewis then elaborated on his time at the Capitol on May 14.

"I went there for a couple hours; we had a session day. One, I wore a mask; two, did not shake any hands; three, it's pretty much a ghost town at the Capitol right now, the cafeteria is closed, so I actually only interacted with a handful of folks, like maybe four or five people," Lewis said. "There's only a couple people in the vicinity where I sit that were there that day. They were both notified, and anyone I had contact with that day, they were notified. They were able to get quarantined, get tested, no positive tests that I'm aware of. I notified human resources when I got my positive test back, called human resources, ensured everyone was notified."

Lewis said he waited to reveal his diagnosis because he says people who were exposed deserve time to get tested and practice isolation. He said there are HIPAA laws and privacy laws that need to be protected.

"Now that I'm through the quarantine and those people I had contact with were able to get those things done, now I think is the appropriate time to give you all the public announcement that I did test positive for COVID-19. But I want to assure you throughout this whole thing, I followed the isolation procedures, notified anyone I was in contact with, followed the protocols and even was in contact with the Department of Health on a daily basis," Lewis said.

Lewis said on the weekend of May 16 he started feeling under the weather. He had a 24-hour fever, chills, light cough and felt fatigued. He scheduled a test for Monday, May 18 at a Rite Aid drive-through testing site. He self-isolated while waiting for the results. He got the positive test on the 20th.

Lewis also said he lost his sense of taste and smell for a few days.

"I've received a lot of questions about who was notified and things like that, but I want you to know that human resources at the Capitol was notified. I privately ensured that the folks I had contact with, the handful of people, were all notified. Did that due diligence to ensure their privacy was protected, that they had the opportunity to do the testing and the isolation, which they did," Lewis said.

Lewis told those watching his Facebook Live if they feel any of these symptoms to get a test and alert those who you came in contact with.

"It's important if you feel like you have it to let the people know you've been in contact with so that they can take precautions, especially if they suffer from an existing condition," Lewis said.

Lewis said he wears a mask at the Capitol and when he goes to stores, and practices social distancing. But he said now is the time to reopen the state.

"I wanted, straight from me, to give you guys the update on what it's like," Lewis said. "I firmly believe that it is time to safely reopen Pennsylvania. You can protect public health while ensuring the financial survival of so many families who are trying to provide for their families."

Mike Straub, the Press Secretary to the Pennsylvania House Majority Leader and the Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus spokesman, issued a statement to 6abc on Thursday.

"We implemented 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 currently. Anyone who met those guidelines was notified and quarantined," Straub said.

Straub said they would be breaking HIPAA law if they announced anything about Lewis' medical status or information that could lead to him being tested.

"He chose to make his test public," Straub said.

Straub sent over the guidelines that were used to as to who was contacted regarding the COVID-19 diagnosis.

He said, "Identify employees that were in close contact (within about 6 feet for at least 10 minutes) 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."

Here are the CDC's guidelines posted on its website:

Based on our current knowledge, a close contact is someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from 48 hours before illness onset until the time the patient is isolated. They should stay home, maintain social distancing, and self-monitor until 14 days from the last date of exposure.

"The 48 hours before symptoms onset is worth noting. 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. Also, the 14 day isolation period for those exposed ends this afternoon, so we are pleased with how the guidelines and protocols worked," Straub said.

In a statement, Attorney General Josh Shapiro said a criminal investigation is not warranted at this time.

"Each day frontline workers put themselves in harm's way to provide essential services and their safety depends on strong protections, the availability and use of PPE, and a common decency and transparency from their fellow workers, management and clientele. It is disappointing to hear allegations that this standard was not met in the state House.

We have received requests to conduct a criminal investigation by several members of the state House. While I understand their frustration and concern, a criminal investigation is not warranted based on our initial review. Capitol staff and state House members with concerns about COVID-19 contact tracing and exposure should contact the independent Chief Clerk of the state House and continue to follow the guidance of the Secretary of Health.

It is critical that public officials lead by example and demonstrate common decency during this crisis by following public health guidelines and being transparent with their colleagues and the Department of Health. Failure to act with this decency puts others at risk and extends the period of time we must fight this pandemic," he said.
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