Democrats in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives on Thursday accused Republicans of keeping a lawmaker’s positive coronavirus test a secret to avoid political embarrassment, even at the risk of exposing their Democratic colleagues.
A Republican House member, Andrew Lewis, confirmed on Wednesday that he had received a positive test on May 20 and went into self-isolation. Mr. Lewis said that every lawmaker or staff member he had been in contact with who “met the criteria for exposure” was notified.
But Democrats disputed that, saying none of their own members were alerted even though some were in proximity to Mr. Lewis in committee meetings.
In an emotional and profanity-laced Facebook video recorded in his office at the Capitol, Representative Brian K. Sims, a Democrat from Philadelphia, said Mr. Diamond had “apparently been quarantining himself for weeks” but “didn’t explain that to any of us when he was in committee, talking with us or walking up and down the aisles or bumping into us or letting us hold the door open for him.”
“How dare you put our lives at risk?” Mr. Sims said, noting that he had recently donated a kidney. “How dare you put our families at risk?”
Mr. Lewis said that after experiencing “mild flulike symptoms,” he sought a test on May 18. He kept his positive diagnosis private “out of respect for my family, and those who I may have exposed,” he wrote on Facebook. He also said that May 14 had been his last day in the Capitol and that as of Wednesday, he was fully recovered and ended his quarantine.
Representative Kevin J. Boyle, the Democratic chair of the state government committee, said he had sat near Mr. Lewis about a week before his positive test, and had not been told. “The fact the Republican caucus didn’t inform the Democratic caucus is deeply reckless and immoral,” he said.
He speculated on why they did not do so: “The optics are terrible” for Republicans, he said. “Lewis and Diamond have been high-profile members of the anti-shutdown movement. They’ve been consistently telling everyone we’ve overreacted with shutdown orders and Covid-19 is not the danger it is.” Mr. Boyle asked the Pennsylvania attorney general, Josh Shapiro, to investigate whether Republican leaders broke the law.
On Twitter, Mr. Diamond said he had not gotten tested during his self-isolation and he mocked “lefties” who “whine” about it.
Republican lawmakers, including Mr. Lewis, have introduced bills seeking to weaken the emergency shutdown orders of Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat. As in many states, Pennsylvania has seen a nasty tug of war between Republican lawmakers concerned about the economy, and sometimes mocking mask-wearing and social distancing, and governors seeking to follow the recommendations of health experts.
A spokesman for the House Republicans, Mike Straub, said that state and federal guidelines were followed in determining whom to notify, specifically anyone in close contact with Mr. Lewis in the 48 hours before his symptoms began. “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,” Mr. Straub said in a statement.
On Thursday afternoon, Mr. Sims, speaking on the House floor, disputed both that timeline and when Mr. Lewis was infectious, which he said would have been as early as May 4, two weeks before his positive test. Mr. Lewis was present in the Capitol on six days when he could have been infectious, Mr. Sims said.
He accused Republican leaders of knowing of the positive test and not disclosing it as lawmakers returned to their homes for the Memorial Day holiday. “A massive holiday went by before we were notified, but people here interacted with their families,” he said, adding, “That’s unconscionable.”
Representative Ryan Bizzarro, a Democrat who went for a test on Thursday in Harrisburg, the capital, said: “The thing that was just infuriating about this whole situation is that we found out the Republican caucus leadership knew about this and tried to bury it.”
In a party-line vote, Republicans defeated a Democratic motion to adjourn through June 8 to investigate Republicans’ handling of the episode. Late in the day, Democrats proposed new rules to require all lawmakers to wear masks on the House floor and in committees, and to have their temperatures checked before being admitted to the floor or committee rooms.
Some Democrats have called for the House speaker, Mike Turzai, to step down, including Mr. Sims, who ended his floor speech with a flourish, saying, “Mike Turzai, you need to resign immediately.”
Mr. Turzai responded that he had not been informed at the time of Mr. Lewis’s positive test. He pledged that if he tested positive for the virus, he would immediately disclose the results publicly.
“And I do think that all members should follow the same protocol,” he said, an implicit rebuke of Mr. Lewis.