A Republican state senator who has proven to be one of Wisconsin’s most virulent critics of mask and vaccine mandates became sick enough to be hospitalized last week after contracting COVID-19, his office confirmed to The Daily Beast.
What’s more, a possibly infectious Sen. André Jacque, who testified maskless during a Joint Senate and Assembly Education Committee meeting last Wednesday at the statehouse in Madison, neglected to inform his colleagues about their potential exposure—and they’re not happy.
In an email sent Monday evening to a reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jacque said he and “some of my family” tested positive for COVID at the end of last week. Jacque, a father of six with a new baby, sought treatment on Monday at the hospital for pneumonia, but said he did not know when he contracted the virus.
“At the time I tested positive, I was largely asymptomatic with the exception of fatigue, which I had been feeling more of since the baby arrived,” Jacque wrote in the email, a copy of which Jacque’s communications director provided to The Daily Beast in lieu of a statement or comment.
“Fatigue has been a long-standing health concern of mine but otherwise I had good health readings when I tested positive. My office has been following all protocols and I personally reached out to the limited number of close contacts from last week in case I was positive at the time. I do not believe any of my staff or close contacts are experiencing symptoms. Unfortunately, I am now at the hospital with pneumonia, which I have had previously. I do not have further information to share at this point.”
Jacque, who in April introduced legislation to prohibit Wisconsin businesses from asking for proof of vaccination, has so far refused to say whether or not he is vaccinated.
The number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Wisconsin has spiked for the first time since vaccines became available, as the state, along with the rest of the U.S., contends with the highly infectious Delta variant. As of Aug. 11, Wisconsin had 10 times more new COVID-19 cases than it did just a month ago, and six times as many COVID hospitalizations, according to state health officials. On Monday, the state’s seven-day average of positive cases hit its highest level since February, with some 660 people hospitalized.
But even though Jacque claimed to have notified a small handful of people about his positive COVID status, he didn’t act quickly enough and is still keeping crucial information from colleagues who were potentially exposed, a number of Jacque’s fellow legislators allege.
“I can tell you, I was pissed,” Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) told The Daily Beast. “There were murmurs of this since Friday, that Jacque had gotten a positive test, which means that he had to have had it three or four days before the symptoms showed up and he got a test. So we have been waiting for confirmation, but the committee chairman says he doesn’t think [Jacque] had it on Wednesday, so he doesn’t have to notify anybody—they have a colleague who was in the hospital, and they’re still shrugging it off.”
Wisconsin Republicans are “still following the pied piper in pretending that this is nothing, and that nobody should have to take any precautions,” continued Larson, who was at the meeting at which a possibly infectious Jacque appeared without a mask, “and anybody doing the responsible thing is somehow ‘showing weakness.’”
State Sen. LaTonya Johnson, a Democrat, told the Journal Sentinel that she also had not been informed through official channels that she may have been exposed to COVID by Jacque.
In photos posted to Facebook throughout the pandemic, Jacque can be seen both masked and unmasked. In a statement issued Tuesday, the Wisconsin State Senate Democratic Committee said its members’ thoughts are with Jacque as he recovers, but that it is “unfortunate” that Jacque has “resisted common sense measures” meant to protect himself and others from COVID.
To date, COVID has claimed the lives of 8,324 Wisconsinites. And Larson, a father of two and an accomplished marathoner, can’t help but feel frustrated about Jacque’s behavior.
“So many of us have been trying to spread the truth, and not allow the virus to get out of control,” he told The Daily Beast. “And he and so many other legislators have been pushing in the opposite direction, making it easier for the virus to spread, trying to stigmatize mask wearing, trying to stigmatize vaccinations. This was entirely preventable, and I don’t know how many people were put needlessly at risk because of one person being so careless and reckless.”