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U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Seattle one of three lawmakers to test positive for COVID-19 after Capitol siege

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 12, 2021

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., speaks during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on antitrust on July 29 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.  (Graeme Jennings)
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., speaks during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on antitrust on July 29 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Graeme Jennings)

WASHINGTON – Seattle U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal announced Tuesday she had tested positive for the coronavirus after spending hours in lockdown during last Wednesday’s siege of the U.S. Capitol with Republicans who refused to wear face masks.

Jayapal is one of three Democrats to test positive for the virus following last week’s storming of the Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump that left five people dead and forced lawmakers to shelter in crowded rooms. New Jersey Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, who was hospitalized Monday, and Rep. Brad Schneider of Illinois have also announced positive tests after spending hours in the same room.

“Only hours after President Trump incited a deadly assault on our Capitol, our country, and our democracy,” Jayapal said in a statement, “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 – creating a superspreader event on top of a domestic terrorist attack.”

Jayapal tested positive Monday night, her statement said. Spokesman Chris Evans said the congresswoman tested negative for the virus Jan. 5, the day before the insurrection. She was quarantining with a fever as of Tuesday evening.

In a video from inside the room posted by Punchbowl News, six GOP representatives refused to put on masks offered by Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, a Delaware Democrat. After declining a mask, Rep. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma can be heard saying, “I’m not trying to get political here.”

Mask wearing has become a contentious issue on Capitol Hill, with many Republicans flouting requirements, reflecting a partisan divide across the country over a simple precaution public health officials say is essential for the nation to slow the spread of the virus. Democrats have expressed frustration with their GOP counterparts.

“I am now in strict isolation,” Schneider wrote Tuesday on Twitter, “worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff.”

Jayapal is the third member of Congress from Washington to test positive for COVID-19, joining Rep. Dan Newhouse, a central Washington Republican, and Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett. At least 64 lawmakers have tested positive or been presumed positive, and dozens more have quarantined after coming into contact with someone who was infected since the pandemic began.

Luke Letlow, a Republican elected to Congress from Louisiana, died from the disease late last year before taking his seat.

On Sunday, the Capitol’s attending physician sent an email to lawmakers and their staffs warning that they may have been exposed to the virus while sheltering in the large room, where Jayapal estimated there were more than 100 people.

Jayapal, who heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, called for any member of Congress who refuses to wear a mask at the Capitol to be fined and removed from the House or Senate floor.

“This is not a joke,” she said.

“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.”

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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