A Republican U.S. Representative has tested positive for COVID-19 only days after attending to his official duties in the House without a mask, and his Democratic colleagues are incensed. One Democratic Representative is ready to request a major rules change to prevent unmasked legislators from the House floor in response to the incident.
CNN’s Manu Raju is reporting that both Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC) and his family tested positive for the deadly pandemic contagion. The last day that the House of Representatives voted in person was just over two weeks ago.
Despite the chamber’s medical staff strongly recommending all members wear masks, most members of the Republican caucus vocally refused, citing non-scientific mumbo jumbo as their excuse. The South Carolina Republican from Myrtle Beach blithely celebrated his family’s apparently successful bout with the infection in a Facebook post where he framed his health problem in racial terms and didn’t express any concern about possibly infecting his colleagues, only complaining that he “CAN’T TASTE BACON.”
“The country is facing the worst public health crisis in our generation,” Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL) told Occupy Democrats. “That’s why I’m asking leadership to put in place rules that prohibit those not wearing masks from entering the House floor under the guidance of top public health experts.
“The complete disregard for the safety of other members is negligent irresponsible and quite simply ignorant,” says the freshman Representative Mucarsel-Powell, who flipped a GOP seat in Miami in the last election. “He put not only other members at risk but also their children and families.”
“People should follow the CDC’s guidelines and wear masks when they’re in close proximity to others. Toxic masculinity is going to kill us, whether it’s coming from the White House or the People’s House,” says elected DNC member Christine Pelosi about the incident. “It’s one thing to have a mask slip off and another to eschew wearing a mask altogether. It’s highly appropriate that the House of Representatives and all places of business ask people to observe public health protocols. It is little different than a person who works at a restaurant having to wash their hands before starting work, or a doctor or nurse washing their hands to prevent spreading infection. It’s about basic, common courtesy.”
CNN’s Raju revealed that he had asked Rep. Rice why he wasn’t wearing a mask on May 28th during the House’s last vote, and he claimed to be taking all precautions besides wearing a mask.
But Rep. Mucarsel-Powell said that when she was in the Capitol last week for meetings of the House Judiciary Committee, not only were Republican members not wearing masks, they were talking to her and others from “1 foot away.”
GOP Rep. Tom Rice, who announced today he and his family were diagnosed with covid-19 last week, wasn't wearing a mask on House floor when chamber was in session on May 28. I asked him why not, and he told me then: “I'm socially distancing. I'm staying six feet away from folks.”
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) June 15, 2020
This isn’t the first instance of Republican legislators endangering the lives of their colleagues with irresponsible coronavirus hygiene in the workplace.
Three weeks ago, Pennsylvania State Rep. Andrew Lewis (R) knew that he had tested positive and told his caucus’ leadership, but none of them informed their Democratic colleagues and the infected legislator continued to show up at the Capitol in Harrisburg without wearing a mask.
GOP lawmakers even contact traced Rep. Lewis but didn’t tell anyone about his illness. Democratic state Rep. Brian Sims was outraged and made a viral video that turned the incident into a national story. Pennsylvania’s Republican Speaker of the House Mike Turzai retired in shame earlier this week from both his post atop the statehouse and from the chamber entirely.
Sadly, if House Republicans continue to claim that they won’t wear masks because of “herd immunity” or because “looking at faces matters” more than preventing infectious diseases, then they’ll continue to aid and abet the spread of a pandemic illness.
Arizona is experiencing the nation’s most rapid increase in COVID-19 infections, but its Republican Governor just said he won’t require mask use because people will just have to “get used to living with the virus.”
“Our analyses support the immediate and universal adoption of facemasks by the public,” said lead author Dr. Richard Stutt who published a recent Cambridge University peer-reviewed study which found that if as little as half of all Americans wear masks, it will drastically slow the spread of the lethal coronavirus. “If widespread facemask use by the public is combined with physical distancing and some lockdown, it may offer an acceptable way of managing the pandemic and reopening economic activity long before there is a working vaccine.” The researchers say they’re calling for information campaigns across wealthy and developing nations alike that appeal to our altruistic side: ‘my facemask protects you, your facemask protects me’.
None of the GOP’s party-wide resistance to taking proper health precautions against the highly contagious novel coronavirus should come as a surprise considering that the CDC had to leak its re-opening plans to force President Trump to release them. He’s even wished that we could stop virus testing altogether so that “we’d have very few cases.”
Grant Stern is the Executive Editor of Occupy Democrats and published author. His new Meet the Candidates 2020 book series is distributed by Simon and Schuster. He's also mortgage broker, community activist and radio personality in Miami, Florida., as well as the producer of the Dworkin Report podcast. Grant is also an occasional contributor to Raw Story, Alternet, and the DC Report, and a senior advisor to the Democratic Coalition