(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.
“The coronavirus has hit the Senate today,″ said McConnell, R-Ky. “It’s not just back in our states but right here in the Senate.″
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 “hitting 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.