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‘This is not something I would wish on anybody’: Congressman Dan Newhouse opens up about his bout with COVID-19

UPDATED: Mon., Dec. 28, 2020

Newhouse  (TYLER TJOMSLAND)
Newhouse (TYLER TJOMSLAND)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse said he had always been careful to follow public health guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic, wearing a mask in public and washing his hands religiously.

“Frankly, I think I did a pretty darn good job of following those things,” Newhouse told The Spokesman-Review. “My mother taught me well to wash my hands, so it wasn’t a huge stretch for me.”

But when the Central Washington Republican started to feel fatigued on the morning of Nov. 17, he took advantage of a testing program the House had started just a day earlier and left the Capitol as a precaution. By 7 p.m., he said, he received a text message confirming what he had feared: He had the virus.

The next morning, Newhouse said, he felt like “I didn’t get the license plate of the truck that ran over me.”

The lawmaker announced his positive test on Twitter as he and his wife Joan, who came down with the virus at about the same time, began a two-week quarantine in their Washington, D.C., home. Friends left care packages on their doorstep, Newhouse said with a laugh, before ringing the doorbell and running away.

“I just felt really lethargic,” he said. “The lack of energy, the lethargy, was just overwhelming. And then that fever.”

The fever arrived a day later and got as high as 102 degrees, lasting nearly a week. Newhouse said he wasn’t prescribed medication but relied on over-the-counter fever reducers to get through that week, which seemed like it would never end.

“Typically, when you’re sick, every day there’s a little change,” Newhouse said. “You’re either better or you’re worse. This seemed (like) every day was exactly the same. It almost started to feel like, wow, this is just the way it is. It’s kind of a depressing feeling.”

Newhouse, 65, counted himself lucky to have escaped the virus without more severe symptoms or the lingering effects that have come to be known as “long COVID.”

“I’m in that category that’s a higher risk, but I’ve heard stories of much younger people having a tougher time,” he said. “I guess I’d consider myself fortunate, but that was about as sick as I’ve ever been.”

The district Newhouse represents, which stretches from Yakima and the Tri-Cities to the Canadian border, has been hit harder by the virus than any other part of the state on a per-capita basis. One in 12 people in Franklin County have tested positive, one in 13 in Adams County and one in 14 in Yakima County, according to a New York Times tracker.

“It’s hit Central Washington hard,” Newhouse said, “and it continues to. It is certainly a serious thing. It’s not anything to be taken lightly.”

When Newhouse contracted the virus, he was the eighth lawmaker to test positive after Congress returned from its election recess. At least 50 have tested positive for the virus or antibodies that indicate a previous infection, according to GovTrack. Another 52 have quarantined after coming into contact with someone who tested positive, throwing a wrench into the day-to-day work of legislating.

“This is not something I would wish on anybody,” he said. “I was as sick as I’ve ever been. I would recommend to everybody to do all they can to keep themselves and the people around them safe.”

The congressman said he didn’t know where or when he caught the virus, though he ventured it may have been from the air travel he, like most members of Congress, does weekly. He said he hadn’t been at any “super-spreader” gatherings, like the Sept. 26 event at the White House that left at least 11 people infected.

Newhouse said he would get a coronavirus vaccine as soon as possible, though he supported frontline workers and the most vulnerable getting the shots first. After the congressman spoke with The Spokesman-Review, Politico reported that Congress would receive a limited batch of vaccine doses to ensure stability of government and bolster public confidence in the inoculations.

COVID-19 cases continue to climb across the nation as holiday travel threatens to worsen already-dire numbers. As of Friday, 17.4 million Americans had tested positive for the virus and nearly 313,000 had died.

Newhouse said he hopes his experience helps people in Washington and across the country understand how grave the disease is.

“There are some fortunate people who may test positive and remain asymptomatic,” he said, “but if you do express symptoms, they can be very serious. I was very fortunate, but not everybody is. And so my main message would be to take it seriously and do all you can to protect yourself and others.”


Orion Donovan-Smith's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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