An Ohio state House representative continued with in-person meetings after he was exposed to COVID-19 and tested positive ― and now four other state lawmakers who attended a hearing with him also have the virus.
Although the precise source of the four other lawmakers’ infections is not known for sure, the outbreak adds to a rash of cases in state legislatures where efforts to require mask use and distancing have faced staunch resistance among GOP members.
Ohio state Rep. Stephen Hambley, a Republican, spent around an hour and a half on Nov. 17 in close contact with an aide who tested positive two days later, he told the Ohio Capital Journal, a local newspaper.
On Nov. 19, Hambley told a state House committee that the aide had tested positive. CDC guidelines say that anyone who has been in close contact with someone who tests positive should quarantine for two weeks, potentially obtaining a test starting five days after exposure to shorten their quarantine time.
But on the 19th, Hambley was photographed attending an in-person meeting on a bill that restricts the state health director’s ability to issue public health orders to help curb the spread of the virus. He removed his mask at one point to speak. (The bill passed, but was vetoed by GOP Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.)
People can start spreading the virus up to three days before they start experiencing symptoms of their own.
Hambley started feeling sick on Nov. 21, he told the Ohio Capital Journal. He took a test on Nov. 22 and it was positive. Hambley said he informed House Speaker Bob Cupp, a fellow Republican, of his diagnosis. Cupp did not respond to a request for comment.
On, Nov. 28, Hambley took another test. It was also positive, he told the Ohio Capital Journal.
On Dec. 2, he attended a hearing with the Ohio state House Finance Committee. Four others in attendance ― two Democrats and two Republicans ― subsequently tested positive, per the local paper. State Rep. Rick Carfagna (R) was among them, and announced his diagnosis in a Dec. 4 Facebook post saying that he had a high fever and urging people to follow public safety guidelines.
“As unpleasant as this illness is, had I not worn a mask and practiced responsible behavior my misery would be compounded with even more guilt wondering if I may have directly infected others,” Carfagna wrote.
Rep. John Patterson (D) also confirmed that he had the virus via Facebook. HuffPost was unable to contact the two other lawmakers who recently tested positive for COVID-19, Rep. Gary Scherer (R) and Rep. John Rogers (D).
Hambley, however, told the Ohio Capital Journal he does not believe he could have infected others during the Dec. 2 meeting.
“There’s no doubt in my mind it was well outside that window,” he said.
The finance committee meeting occurred 11 days after Hambley said he started feeling sick. The CDC says that COVID-19 patients can stop quarantining 10 days after their symptoms first appeared if they have not had a fever in the last day and all their other symptoms appear to be improving.
Hambley had revealed his diagnosis in a Dec. 6 Facebook post, writing that he believed he was exposed on Nov. 17 and claiming that he “remained in isolation for 10 days” after he developed symptoms. The CDC, however, recommends that individuals quarantine as soon as they find out they have had close contact with someone with COVID-19.
Democrats in the Ohio House of Representatives expressed outrage at Hambley’s apparent disregard for basic safety precautions and said they were never told he was sick. A spokesperson told HuffPost that although there had been “rumors” about his diagnosis, they only learned of the precise details through the media.
“It’s indefensible that he would show up with COVID,” House Minority Speaker Emilia Sykes (D) said in a statement.
The paper notes that many Ohio Republicans have steadfastly refused to wear masks. Cupp has encouraged members to wear masks and distance, but refuses to make it a requirement.
Ohio has logged more than 270,000 new cases of COVID-19 in the last month, along with more than 1,700 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Regardless, Ohio Republicans have increased pressure on DeWine to dial back public health measures.
According to The Associated Press, more than 200 legislators nationwide have tested positive for COVID-19, and four have died. The largest outbreak in a state legislature so far occurred in Mississippi, where at least four dozen lawmakers came down with the virus over the summer after many chose not to wear masks. Three had to be placed in intensive care.
The issue of mask use has proven contentious even in the U.S. Senate ― Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) reacted harshly against Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) for asking him to put on his mask properly while he spoke on the floor in mid-November.
“I don’t need your instruction,” Sullivan snapped.
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