The gathering in close quarters of members of Congress on January 6 — in an undisclosed safe room while a pro-Trump mob invaded the Capitol Building — could potentially have been a super-spreader event, as two House reps have announced positive COVID tests. And Democrats from the Bay Area and beyond are pointing fingers at a group of House Republicans who openly scoffed at wearing masks during the hours-long lockdown.
The first House member known to have tested positive as of Monday was Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-New Jersey), and her announcement of her positive test was quickly followed by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) announcing that she also has COVID-19.
Jayapal took to Twitter Monday night to say that her positive test comes "after being locked down in a secured room at the Capitol where several Republicans not only cruelly refused to wear a mask but recklessly mocked colleagues and staff who offered them one." Jayapal went further to call for fines for these congresspeople who flout mask rules, as the Associated Press reports.
"Too many Republicans have refused to take this pandemic and virus seriously, and in doing so, they endanger everyone around them," Jayapal said. "Only hours after President Trump incited a deadly assault on our Capitol, our country, and our democracy, many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum COVID-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic."
“Our lives and our livelihoods are at risk," Jayapal said, "and anyone who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable for endangering our lives because of their selfish idiocy."
House members from the Bay Area piped up late Monday to concur with Jayapal.
East Bay Congressman Eric Swalwell tells ABC 7 he saw "dozens" of Republicans refusing masks in the safe room. "Many people were laughing at our efforts to have them masked," Swalwell said. "One of my colleagues, Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware, she went and grabbed a stack of masks and asked them if they would put the masks on and they just smirked and shook their head and essentially told her to buzz off... it was disgusting."
Swalwell says he asked the Sergeant at Arms to make an announcement about the masks as well, and he was "panned and laughed at."
Following Watson Coleman's diagnosis, Peninsula Congresswoman Jackie Speier circulated a letter on Monday urging minority leader Kevin McCarthy to enforce the existing mask rules in Congress among his caucus.
"The inability or unwillingness of Members of your caucus to follow clear, nonpartisan medical advice has resulted in a life and death matter," Speier wrote. "We frequently see Republican Members failing to wear a mask properly, if at all, and many Republican staff members follow their lead."
So, America in microcosm — people in various corners of red states (and red counties in California) would rather emulate Trump and scoff at science than be seen wearing a mask, and so do their representatives in Congress.
The New York Times reports that fears of super-spreading coming from last Wednesday's events also extend to the rioters themselves, most of whom were not masked, and many of whom wandered around the Capitol for about an hour.
Top image: Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), center, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), right, wear protective masks while listening during a joint session of Congress to count the Electoral College votes of the 2020 presidential election in the House Chamber on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress is meeting to certify Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election, with scores of Republican lawmakers preparing to challenge the tally in a number of states during what is normally a largely ceremonial event. (Photo by Erin Scott - Pool/Getty Images)