Kentucky Republican Rand Paul is the first US senator to test positive for coronavirus, throwing an even greater sense of urgency into Senate negotiations over a massive stimulus package that had yet to come together Sunday afternoon.
A statement from Paul’s office posted to his Twitter account Sunday said he was “feeling fine” and was “tested out of an abundance of caution.”
But Senate Republicans, emerging from their closed-door lunch where they received the news, were extremely unsettled.
GOP senators told CNN Paul was in the gym with colleagues Sunday morning, and several pointed out how close Paul had sat to others during Senate lunches in recent days. Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas said he saw Paul in the Senate swimming pool Sunday, according to a source in the GOP lunch.
“This is a different ballgame now,” one Republican senator told CNN.
Senate Majority Whip John Thune of South Dakota said on the Senate floor that senators will be seeking medical advice.
“We’ll consult with the attending physician here at the Capitol about appropriate measures for those of us who have been in contact with the senator, but this is the kind of situation that Americans across the country are dealing with right now and it underscores the importance of acting immediately to deliver more relief for the American people,” Thune said.
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah echoed similar concerns to reporters.
“All the senators are going to seek medical advice as to what action we should take to make sure that we don’t in any way spread this virus ourselves,” Romney told reporters. “We had a lunch together with Rand, and hope he’s doing very well, but we have to determine whether any of us should self-quarantine as a result of being in the same room.”
According to the post on Paul’s Twitter account, the senator 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,” the statement read.
Sergio Gor, Paul’s deputy chief of staff, expanded on the tweet saying in a statement, “He (Paul) 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 Paul.”
Paul is the third member of Congress to be diagnosed with Covid-19 as cases spread across the country. Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican, was the first member of Congress to test positive for coronavirus on March 18. Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams of Utah also announced he tested positive for the virus.
Several lawmakers have self-quarantined after coming into contact with an individual who tested positive with coronavirus at the Conservative Political Action Conference, including President Donald Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina.
Paul’s announcement comes as Congress is in the midst of working to reach a negotiation on a coronavirus economic stimulus bill. On Sunday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met with the top four Congressional leaders about the bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said there is no deal yet and that the House will introduce its own bill — something that could significantly draw out the process to finalize legislation.
After news that Paul tested positive for the coronavirus, Senate Democrats broke up their caucus lunch and said they would continue discussions over the phone, according to Alabama Sen. Doug Jones. He cited concern about “congregating.”
In 2019, Paul had part of his lung removed after a 2017 attack by his neighbor at his home in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The attack also left the senator with six broken ribs and bruised lungs.
Earlier this month, a World Health Organization official said it can take several weeks to fully recover from illness caused by coronavirus.
“It takes anything up to six weeks to recover from this disease,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the Health Emergencies Programme at the World Health Organization, said during a media briefing. “People who suffer very severe illness can take months to recover from the illness.”
Ryan added that recovery is often measured by the patient no longer exhibiting symptoms and having two consecutive negative tests for the virus at least one day apart, but some countries may measure “recovery” differently.
To date, there is no specific medicine to treat coronavirus, but those infected can recover with appropriate care to relieve and treat symptoms — and those with severe illness should receive optimized supportive care, according to WHO.