When a Republican state representative in Pennsylvania revealed to lawmakers on Wednesday that he’d recovered from coronavirus, his Democratic colleagues had little sympathy to offer.
Instead, they ripped into Rep. Andrew Lewis and his party’s leaders, accusing them of intentionally “covering up” Lewis’ coronavirus diagnosis to avoid political embarrassment amid the party’s relentless push to reopen the state.
In a 12-minute expletive-laden Facebook video on Wednesday night, Democratic state lawmaker Brian Sims unleashed on his rival party, calling them “callous liars” who had put lives at risk. While Lewis said that anybody who had been in contact with him prior to his diagnosis was notified, Sims claimed Lewis never told his Democratic colleagues.
“I just spent the better part of 11 weeks sitting across the room from people who would eventually test positive and decided not to tell us,” said Sims, who added that the information would have been vital for him because he quietly donated a kidney in January. “They did do some kind of quarantine. They did do some kind of contact tracing. They—I guess—being Republican leadership.”
“Fuck, I’ve spent so much of my time here trying to see beyond the blind, disgusting partisanship, and now that partisanship has grown deadly,” he said.
Pennsylvania House Democrats have accused Republicans of keeping Lewis’ diagnosis a secret “to protect their public talking points against science and facts'' as they push to reopen the state amid the ongoing pandemic. At least 5,265 people have died and 73,557 more contracted the virus in the Keystone state, according to Johns Hopkins University.
“The utter indifference to peoples’ lives” shown by House Republicans “proves that they are incapable, unqualified, and unwilling to faithfully discharge the duties of their office,” Democratic state Rep. Leanne Krueger said in a statement.
The tension between the state parties began on Wednesday after Lewis, who last went to the state Capitol on May 14, announced his positive test result. Lewis—who represents Dauphin County, which started to loosen virus restrictions last week in defiance of the governor—said that after he’d tested positive on May 20, he contacted the state House of Representatives but chose to keep his diagnosis private out of respect for his family.
“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,” Lewis said.
Several hours after Lewis’ announcement, another Republican representative, Russ Diamond, confirmed on Twitter that he had been asked to self-quarantine after possibly being exposed. Diamond, who has been the leading advocate for reopening the state and even boasted on Facebook about not wearing a mask while shopping, added Thursday that his doctor said there was no reason for him to be tested because he never showed any symptoms.
“Everyone in the Capitol who may have had contact, according to CDC and PA Dept. of Health guidelines, were notified of potential exposure,” Diamond said in Thursday statement. “The Republican Caucus followed the exact requirements from the Governor’s Office in notifying those folks and as a result those people self-quarantined immediately. It is sad that Democrats have chosen to politicize and toss around hyperbole rather than working with us to steer Pennsylvania back onto a proper course.”
The Pennsylvania House Democratic caucus said in a Wednesday statement that they have learned of four members of the Republican Caucus who have been in self-quarantine after testing positive.
Several Democrats have since called for the resignation of Republican leaders, including House Speaker Mike Turzi, over the alleged cover-up. In a Wednesday letter to Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Rep. Kevin Boyle called for a formal investigation.
“Republicans have gone to battle for the argument that personal responsibility to follow CDC guidelines alone was enough to protect the public,” House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody said in a statement. “Now, we learn that they didn’t even attempt to protect their own members or the communities that their members return to.”
Jumping off his colleague’s point, Sims said in his video that the Republican’s decision to hide the COVID-19 diagnoses put lawmakers at risk—including him after he donated a kidney in January. He also said Boyle had two young children and other lawmakers had family members who were immunocompromised.
“One of the [Republican] members put out a statement saying, ‘I was looking out for my family,’” Sims said, who joined the House of Representatives in 2013. “Well, you were exposing our families!”
He added: “Russ Diamond walked around the House floor every day without a mask on. Just a little bit ago I was on the House floor, and at one point only four Republican members had their masks on. Holy shit!”
The Democratic lawmaker, who was visibly angry in the video, added that House Republicans were recklessly endangering the lives of their colleagues across the aisle while trying to pass “ridiculous bills pretending that it was safe to be out there.”
“You have no idea how the people around you are impacted,” Sims said.
A spokesman for House Republicans, Mike Straub, said in a statement that GOP officials adhered to state and federal guidelines when they determined who to notify after Lewis tested positive. “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,” Straub said.