Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has become the first senator to test positive for the novel coronavirus, his office said Sunday, a development that raises questions about the threat the virus poses to senators’ health as they defy warnings about public gatherings.
“Senator Rand Paul has tested positive for COVID-19,” Paul’s office said in a statement Sunday, referring to the disease the virus causes. “He is feeling fine and is in quarantine. He is asymptomatic and was tested out of an abundance of caution due to his extensive travel and events. He was not aware of any direct contact with any infected person.”
Paul’s office added that the senator “expects to be back in the Senate after his quarantine period ends” and that “virtually no staff” has had contact with him since Paul’s Washington office began operating remotely 10 days ago.
But word of Paul’s diagnosis prompted two of his fellow senators, Republicans Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, both of Utah, to announce that they were self-quarantining because of their recent contact with him.
Paul is the third member of Congress to announce that he has tested positive for the virus. Last week, Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Ben McAdams (D-Utah) announced they had tested positive.
At Sunday’s coronavirus task force briefing, President Trump called Paul “a great friend” and sent his regards to the senator and Diaz-Balart. Trump made no mention of McAdams, a Democrat. The coronavirus, Trump said, is “getting quite close to home, and it’s a terrible thing that’s going on.”
After being informed that Romney was self-quarantining, Trump told reporters at Sunday’s briefing, “Gee. That’s too bad.”Asked whether there was sarcasm in his remarks, Trump responded, “No. None whatsoever.” Romney was the only Republican to vote last month to convict Trump on one article of impeachment.
Paul received his test results Sunday morning, according to his deputy chief of staff, Sergio Gor.
Gor did not answer repeated questions on when Paul took the test. He also did not elaborate how the senator got tested even though he was asymptomatic.
Most Americans have been instructed not to seek testing unless they have had severe symptoms and close contact with a confirmed case, but in recent weeks, some politicians, celebrities and others have received quick and easy access to testing, prompting public outrage and accusations about a double standard.
Paul, 57, an ophthalmologist, is in his second term in the Senate. Last year, he revealed that part of his lung was surgically removed because of injuries he suffered in 2017 when he was attacked by his neighbor. Paul also traveled to Ontario, Canada, last year to have hernia surgery, which he said was related to the 2017 assault.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) told fellow senators that Paul was working out in the Senate gym Sunday morning. Moran also said Paul was swimming in the pool.
Asked about Paul’s Sunday morning whereabouts, Gor said, “As soon as he got the results, he left the building.”
Paul and several other Kentucky political figures attended a fundraiser for a Louisville art museum earlier this month. Two guests later tested positive, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal, and some of the attendees have since gone into self-quarantine. Gor said Paul decided to get tested after the event, although Paul was not aware of any direct contact with any of the two individuals who tested positive.
The news of Paul’s coronavirus diagnosis sparked concern on Capitol Hill, where the Kentucky Republican has been present in recent days as lawmakers have been working on a financial relief package in response to the pandemic.
Lee, 48, said he had been advised by the Office of the Attending Physician, which handles lawmakers’ health care, that a coronavirus test was “not warranted” but that he should self-quarantine for 14 days “given the timing, proximity, and duration of my exposure to Sen. Paul.”
“That means no traveling or voting,” Lee said in a statement. “But I will continue to make sure Utah’s voice is heard as we shape the federal response to the Coronavirus through phone, text, email and whatever other means are available.”
Romney, 73, said in a statement that he “has no symptoms but will be tested.”
“Since Senator Romney sat next to Senator Paul for extended periods in recent days and consistent with CDC guidance, the attending physician has ordered him to immediately self-quarantine and not to vote on the Senate floor,” Romney’s office said.
Other Republican senators appeared unnerved by the revelation that one of their own had tested positive — and several voiced uncertainty about how to proceed.
“There’s no doubt, I’m sure, that there are members, our members, who have had contact with him,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said of Paul. “That’s why I think we have to get this [relief package] done quickly.”
Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, said he wasn’t sure how the Senate should handle lawmakers being in the Capitol complex at the moment. He suggested that members should finish their work on the legislation and then leave the building.
“We are going to need a little better medical advice on this than we have right now,” Blunt told reporters. “I think we need more information before we can comment knowledgeably.”Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), by contrast, said he had been told by the Capitol physician that lawmakers who have recently interacted with Paul do not need to take any additional precautions.
“I sat by him Thursday. I’ve been told that we don’t need to self-quarantine,” said Graham, who had previously tested negative after coming into contact with another person who tested positive for coronavirus. “So what I’m going to do is just assume it’s okay.”
One of Paul’s fellow lawmakers, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), was sharply critical of his actions Sunday.“I’ve never commented about a fellow Senator’s choices/actions. Never once,” Sinema said in a tweet. “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.”
The news prompted some senators to call for the chamber to allow for votes to be cast remotely. Last week, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) jointly introduced a measure that would allow remote voting in the Senate for renewable 30-day periods.
“Remote voting must be instituted immediately, so that the federal legislature can do its job, not just today, but for the duration of this crisis,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said in a tweet Sunday.
Paul took part in Friday’s Senate Republican luncheon at the Capitol. He was the lone senator to vote “no” this month on an $8.3 billion emergency spending measure to fight the outbreak and on Wednesday was among eight senators to vote against a relief package that ensures paid leave for many Americans.
The Kentucky Republican, who is a frequent critic of federal spending, said in a floor speech Wednesday that he objected to the legislation’s price tag and its effect on the federal debt.
“The history of pandemics indicates a strong likelihood that the peak of infections and mortality could pass in a few weeks to a few months,” Paul said. “Congress should remain calm and try not to explode the debt in our response.”
He also sought to strike a positive tone in addressing the crisis facing the nation.
“Reports indicate that scientists will likely set a speed record in developing a vaccine,” Paul said. “Now is not the time for malaise. Now is the time for optimism.”
While Paul is the first senator to test positive, several other senators have announced in recent weeks that they are self-quarantining after having contact with individuals who tested positive.
As news of Paul’s diagnosis made the rounds, some observers noted that the senator’s father, former congressman Ron Paul (R-Tex.), recently penned an online column calling the coronavirus a “hoax.”
“People should ask themselves whether this coronavirus ‘pandemic’ could be a big hoax, with the actual danger of the disease massively exaggerated by those who seek to profit — financially or politically — from the ensuing panic,” the elder Paul wrote.
Hannah Knowles contributed to this report.