- State Democrats in Pennsylvania are claiming that Republicans did not inform them that a Representative tested positive for COVID-19, and that others were isolating as a result.
- Many Democrats are outraged and feel their health was put in danger by the news not being shared with them. Some are calling for the Speaker of the House to resign.
- Democratic Rep. Brian Sims posted a viral rant calling Republicans “callous liars” who called for the government to reopen as they were potentially exposing their colleagues to the virus.
- Republicans have defended themselves, saying they notified those who came in contact with the state representative, and that they followed CDC guidelines.
Rep. Lewis Tests Positive
Democrats in Pennsylvania’s state legislature are claiming that Republicans hid the fact that representatives were self-quarantining after one tested positive for the coronavirus.
On Wednesday, Republican state Rep. Andrew Lewis announced that he was diagnosed with COVID-19 on May 20, after getting tested two days prior. His last day in the state’s Capitol was May 14.
“I immediately began self-isolation protocol and contacted the House of Representatives, and our caucus Human Resources department. My last day in the Capitol was Thursday, May 14.” he said.
Lewis said that anyone who was in contact and potentially exposed to the virus was notified and asked to self-quarantine. He said he waited a week to disclose his diagnosis to the public “out of respect” for his family.
However, it allegedly was not just the public that learned of this news on Wednesday. Pennsylvania Democrats say they were also shocked to learn that one of their colleagues tested positive for the coronavirus and had been isolating for over a week.
“While we are pleased to learn that this House member seems to have recovered, it is simply unacceptable that some House Republicans knew about this for more than a week and sat on that knowledge,” Democratic Leader Frank Dermody said in a statement. “Knowing how House members and staff work closely together at the Capitol, we should have been made aware of this much sooner. We should not have learned of it from a media report.”
Dermody says that in the last two weeks, there were six days of voting at the Capitol and more than 15 meetings of House committees, meaning that people who had come to work in person were at risk of possible exposure.
Right now, Democrats are claiming that four members of the Repubican caucus went into self-quarantine as a result of their contact with Lewis. One of those caucus members was Rep. Russ Diamond, who has very openly criticized masks and other social distancing protocols. He has also led charges calling for the state to reopen.
In a statement, he said he canceled in-person meetings and began isolation as soon as he learned he was in contact with someone who was COVID-positive, though he did not know who that was at the time. But, according to Spotlight PA, earlier that day, he spoke before a House Committee without a mask to call for an end to the state of emergency Pennsylvania declared because of the virus.
Diamond says he has experienced no symptoms since he began isolating on May 21 and plans to go back to the capitol as soon as Thursday. He has not been tested for the virus, but claims his doctor told him a test would be unnecessary if he was not ill.
Democrats Say They Were Out of the Loop
Many Democrats were outraged that they were not notified that their colleagues were isolating and felt their health had been jeopardized. Rep. Kevin J. Boyle claimed that not disclosing this kind of information should be considered criminal.
This news also came on the same day the United State’s coronavirus death toll reached 100,000 people. In Pennsylvania alone there are 70,000 cases and over 5,000 deaths.
“Pennsylvanians are suffering greatly from this medical and financial catastrophe, and many of them are being asked to place the health and safety of others ahead of their own well-being,” wrote Rep. Dan Frankel. “I am horrified to learn that members of the General Assembly failed to do the right thing, at a time when so many Pennsylvanians are doing so in much more difficult situations.”
One of the most vibrant reactions came from Rep. Brian Sims, who went on a 12-minute viral rant on Facebook Live. He claimed that his republican colleagues cam to work so that they could “explain that it was safe to go back to work, it was safe to go back to race car driving or dog grooming or getting your haircut.”
“Meanwhile, what we’re learning is that during that time period, they were testing positive,” Sims continued. “They were notifying one another and they didn’t notify us. I just spent the better part of the past 11 weeks sitting across the room from people who would eventually test and decided not to tell us.”
He specifically referred to Diamond as being part of this mentality. Sims also claimed that this could have serious consequences. He said that Boyle has young children to go home to, and that he himself is vulnerable because he donated a kidney earlier this year, news he was not initially planning on making public right now.
“I didn’t donate my kidney to save somebody’s life so that I could die at the hands of Republicans who are being callous liars,” Sims said.
“How dare you. How dare you put our lives at risk,” Sims continued. “How dare you put our families at risk and pretend it was about looking out for your own. We know you’re looking out for your own.”
Sims, along with other Democrats, has been calling for Republican Speaker of the House Mike Turzai to resign over this, as well as anyone who knew about it.
Republicans Defend Protocol
Still, Republicans have defended themselves. Mike Straub, a spokesman for House Republicans, told the Washington Post that they followed CDC guidelines, as well as protocols from Pennsylvania’s Department of Health. They maintained that everyone needed to be notified because of direct contact was.
Lewis also addressed the concerns on a Facebook live stream Wednesday night. He said that in his final day at the Capitol, he was only in for a few hours and saw very few people. He also said he took measures to protect himself and others.
“One, I wore a mask. Two, I did not shake any hands,” Lewis said. “Three, it’s pretty much a ghost town at the capitol right now, the cafeteria is closed, so I only interacted with a handful of folks.”
Lewis also insisted that everyone he interacted with was notified. He said he was not aware of anyone else testing positive for the virus.
See what others are saying: (NBC 10) (Spotlight PA) (Washington Post)
Florida Breaks Its Record for New Daily COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations
The Sunshine State now accounts for 20% of all new COVID-19 cases nationwide.
Florida Becomes COVID Epicenter
Florida reported 10,207 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday, marking its largest single-day count to date. The grim record comes just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that the state had counted 21,683 new infections Friday, its highest record of daily cases since the start of the pandemic.
Florida has become the new epicenter of the most recent U.S. outbreaks driven by the delta variant. The state now accounts for one out of every five new cases, and the weekend numbers are highly significant because they surpass previous records that were logged before vaccines were readily available.
Notably, Florida’s vaccination rate is actually the exact same as the nationwide average of 49% fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times tracker. In fact, Florida’s rate is the highest among the top 10 states currently reporting the most COVID cases.
While Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has encouraged Florida residents to get vaccinated, he and the state’s legislature have also made it much harder for local officials to enforce protections to mitigate further spread.
DeSantis Bars Masking in Schools
On the same day that the state reported its highest cases ever, DeSantis signed an executive order banning school districts from requiring students to wear a mask when they go back to school later this month.
The move directly contradicts guidance issued by the CDC last week, which recommended that everyone inside K-12 schools wear a face covering.
DeSantis, for his part, has repeatedly claimed the spikes are part of “seasonal” increases driven by more people being indoors and air-conditioning systems circulating the virus. Still, he argued also Friday that he did not think masks were necessary to prevent children from transmitting COVID in the classroom, where they are inside with air conditioning.
At the same time, last week, Florida reported more than 21,000 infections among children younger than 19.
Florida is not the only state that has banned schools from requiring masks. In fact, many of the states suffering the biggest spikes have done the same, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas — which all currently rank among the top 10 states with the highest per capita COVID cases.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Axios)
Biden to Mandate COVID Vaccines for Federal Workers as CDC Changes Masking Guidance
News of the efforts came on the same day that the U.S. reported more than 100,000 new daily COVID cases for the first time since February.
Federal Vaccine Mandate
President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that all federal employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 or consent to strict testing and other safety precautions, White House officials told reporters Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Biden said he was considering the requirement but did not provide any more information.
While the officials also said the details are still being hashed out, they did note that the policy would be similar to ones recently put in place by California and New York City, which respectively required state and city workers to get the jab or submit to regular testing.
Also on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines to recommend that Americans who live in areas “of substantial or high transmission,” as well as all students and teachers, wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.
Delta Causes Spikes, But Vaccines Still Prove Effective
The renewed COVID mitigation efforts come as the delta variant is driving massive surges all over the country.
Coronavirus cases have quadrupled throughout July, jumping from a weekly average of 11,799 on the first day of the month to 63,248 on Tuesday, according to The New York Times tracker. Tuesday also saw new daily infections topping 100,000 for the first time since February, with more than 108,000 reported, per The Times.
While the vast majority of new infections are among people who have not been vaccinated, there have also been increasing reports of breakthrough cases in people who have received the jab.
Those cases, however, do not mean that the vaccines are not effective.
No vaccine prevents 100% of infections. Health officials have said time and time again that the jabs are intended to prevent severe disease and death, and they are doing just that.
According to the most recent data for July 19, the CDC reported that only 5,914 of the more than 161 million Americans who have gotten the vaccine were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 — a figure that represents 0.0036% of vaccinated people.
While safety precautions may be recommended for some people who have received the vaccine, many media narratives have overstated the role breakthrough cases play in the recent spikes. As New York Magazine explains, it is imperative to understand these new mask recommendations are not happening because the vaccine is not effective, but because not enough people are getting the vaccine.
“Because breakthrough infections have so often made the news due to their novelty, that can create a perception of more cases than are actually happening — particularly without more robust tracking of the actual cases to provide context,” the outlet wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)
Wisconsin Police Deny Planting Evidence in Viral Video, Release Their Own Body Cam Footage
The footage police released shows that during a search, officers found a corner tear from a plastic bag inside a backseat passenger’s pocket. An officer then discarded it into the car after determining that it was empty.
Viral Video Appears To Show Officer Planting Evidence
The Caledonia Police Department in Wisconsin has responded to a viral cell phone video that appears to show an officer planting a small plastic baggie inside of a car during a traffic stop.
The now-viral footage was posted to Facebook by a man who goes by GlockBoy Savoo.
The user, who also filmed the clip, wrote in his post’s caption that the officer did this “just to get a reason to search the car” and said the cop didn’t know he was being recorded by the passenger.
Police Shut Down Accusations With Their Own Footage
After that video spread across social media, many were outraged, calling the Caledonia police dirty for seemingly planting evidence. All the outrage eventually prompted the department to announce an investigation Saturday.
Within hours, the department provided an update, claiming that officers didn’t actually plant any evidence or do anything illegal.
Police shared a lengthy summary of events, along with two body camera clips from the incident. That statement explained that the driver of the vehicle was pulled over for going 63 in a 45mph zone.
Two passengers in the backseat who were then spotted without seatbelts were asked to identify themselves and step out of the car. During a search of one passenger’s pockets, an officer pulled out “an empty corner tear” from a plastic baggie.
Police claim the corner tear did not contain any illegal substances, though they said this type of packaging is a common method for holding illegal drugs.
In one body cam clip, an officer can be heard briefly questioning the backseat passenger about the baggie. Then, that piece of plastic gets handed off to different officers who also determined it as empty before the officer in the original viral video discarded it into the back of the car.
The officer can also be seen explaining where the plastic came from to the passenger recording him.
“Aye, bro you just threw that in here!” the front seat passenger says, as heard in his version of the events.
“Yeah, cause it was in his pocket and I don’t want to hold onto it. It’s on their body cam that they took it off of him…I’m telling you where it came from, so. It’s an empty baggie at the moment too, so,” the officer replies.
The department went on to explain that while it would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s car, this footage proves that evidence was not planted.
Authorities also noted that no arrests were made in this incident and the driver was the only one issued a citation for speeding. The statement added that since four officers were present at the scene, police have more than six hours of footage to review but they promised to release the footage in full in the near future.