March 22, 2020 at 1:51 PM EDT – Updated March 23 at 1:18 PM
WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, becoming the first case of COVID-19 in the Senate and raising fears about the further transmission of the virus among Republicans at the Capitol.
Paul, an eye surgeon, went into quarantine Sunday after learning his results. He said he has not had symptoms and was tested out of an abundance of caution due to his extensive travel and events. He said he was not aware of any direct contact with any infected person.
His announcement led Utah’s two GOP senators — Mike Lee and Mitt Romney — to place themselves into quarantine, stepping away from negotiations as the Senate worked on a $1.4 trillion economic rescue package for the coronavirus crisis. At least five senators, including Paul, were in self-quarantine Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
He expects to be back in the Senate after his quarantine period ends and will continue to work for the people of Kentucky at this difficult time. Ten days ago, our D.C. office began operating remotely, hence virtually no staff has had contact with Senator Rand Paul.
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) March 22, 2020
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona elected in 2018, chastised Paul on Twitter, saying his decision to return to the Capitol after he was tested — but before he learned the results — was “absolutely irresponsible.”
Sinema said she has “never commented about a fellow Senator’s choices/actions. Never once.”
But she added: “This, America, is absolutely irresponsible. You cannot be near other people while waiting for coronavirus test results. It endangers others & likely increases the spread of the virus.”
Other senators, including Ted Cruz of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, had gone into self-quarantine while they awaited the results of a coronavirus test. Both were negative.
Responding to criticism on Twitter, Paul’s office said, “We want to be clear, Senator Paul left the Senate IMMEDIATELY upon learning of his diagnosis. He had zero contact with anyone & went into quarantine. Insinuations … that he went to the gym after learning of his results are just completely false & irresponsible!”
Paul’s office did not say when he was tested. Representatives of his office could not immediately be reached for comment.
President Donald Trump called Paul “a great friend” and said he’s “always there when we needed him.”
Paul’s diagnosis came after two House members, Reps. Mario Diaz Balart, R-Fla., and Ben McAdams, D-Utah, tested positive for the virus. Trump said the positive test results showed the virus was “hiting quite close to home. It’s a terrible thing that’s going on.”
Paul and other lawmakers “are going to be fine,” Trump said. ”I hope they’ll be fine.”
Paul, a deficit hawk, was among eight Senate Republicans who voted against a House-passed bill last week that provided more than $100 billion to boost testing for the coronavirus and guarantee paid sick leave for millions of workers. He also was only Republican senator who opposed an earlier bill authorizing $8.3 billion for initial response to the coronavirus.
The senator was on Capitol Hill this past week, including at a luncheon Friday among GOP senators. He spoke on the Senate floor on Wednesday afternoon, addressing the cornonavirus and a failed amendment he sponsored that would have paid for virus relief efforts by withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
A spokesman for Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said Moran briefly saw Paul at the Senate gym Sunday morning and that he shared that information with GOP colleagues at a policy meeting. Moran “followed CDC guidelines and kept a safe distance between him and Sen. Paul,” spokesman Tom Brandt said. Moran has spoken with the attending physician at the Capitol and has been told he does not need to self-quarantine, Brandt said.
South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the second-ranking Republican senator, said on the Senate floor that lawmakers will consult with the attending physician about all senators who have been in contact with Paul.
Romney said he was praying for Paul and noted that Paul’s health is compromised. Paul, 57, broke several ribs in 2017 when a neighbor assaulted him over a long-standing landscaping dispute. Paul, who was later awarded $580,000 in damages and medical expenses, had surgery last year to remove part of a lung damaged by the assault.
The Senate was in session Sunday seeking a bipartisan response to the pandemic. If approved, the bill would be the third measure Congress has approved in response to the coronavirus this month.
The White House has increasingly emphasized that testing should prioritize the elderly and health care workers who have symptoms of the virus. While most cases of COVID-19 are mild and tens of thousands of people have recovered, older people and those with underlying health problems are at higher risk for more serious problems, such as pneumonia.
“We don’t want everyone to go out and get a test because there’s no reason for it,” Trump told reporters Friday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells people to seek testing if they have certain symptoms of the flu-like illness caused by the coronavirus — fever, cough and trouble breathing — and if they have traveled recently to an outbreak area or have been in close contact with someone who is infected. They should first be tested for the flu and other routine infections.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.
Rand Paul released the following statement on Monday:
“Given that my wife and I had traveled extensively during the weeks prior to COVID-19 social distancing practices, and that I am at a higher risk for serious complications from the virus due to having part of my lung removed seven months ago, I took a COVID-19 test when I arrived in D.C. last Monday. I felt that it was highly unlikely that I was positive since I have had no symptoms of the illness, nor have I had contact with anyone who has either tested positive for the virus or been sick.
Since nearly every member of the U.S. Senate travels by plane across the country multiple times per week and attends lots of large gatherings, I believed my risk factor for exposure to the virus to be similar to that of my colleagues, especially since multiple congressional staffers on the Hill had already tested positive weeks ago.
As for my attendance at the Speed Art Museum fundraiser on March 7, unlike the other Kentucky government officials there, I had zero contact or proximity with either of the two individuals who later announced they were positive for COVID-19. The event was a large affair of hundreds of people spread throughout the museum.
There was an announcement by the Museum and Metro Louisville Communicable Disease department that “those who public health officials consider at higher risk from possible exposure are being notified.” Louisville’s health director put out a statement in The Courier Journal that “most of the people at the Speed Ball were at ‘very minimal risk.’” I was not considered to be at risk since I never interacted with the two individuals even from a distance and was not recommended for testing by health officials.
I believe we need more testing immediately, even among those without symptoms. The nature of COVID-19 put me – and us all – in a Catch-22 situation. I didn’t fit the criteria for testing or quarantine. I had no symptoms and no specific encounter with a COVID-19 positive person. I had, however, traveled extensively in the U.S. and was required to continue doing so to vote in the Senate. That, together with the fact that I have a compromised lung, led me to seek testing. Despite my positive test result, I remain asymptomatic for COVID-19.
For those who want to criticize me for lack of quarantine, realize that if the rules on testing had been followed to a tee, I would never have been tested and would still be walking around the halls of the Capitol. The current guidelines would not have called for me to get tested nor quarantined. It was my extra precaution, out of concern for my damaged lung, that led me to get tested.
Perhaps it is too much to ask that we simply have compassion for our fellow Americans who are sick or fearful of becoming so. Thousands of people want testing. Many, like David Newman of The Walking Dead, are sick with flu symptoms and are being denied testing. This makes no sense.
The broader the testing and the less finger-pointing we have, the better. America is strong. We are a resilient people, but we’re stronger when we stand together.”
The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved.