Philly lawmakers outraged over GOP secrecy in positive COVID-19 case at state Capitol

HARRISBURG, May 27 State Reps. Jason Dawkins, Malcolm Kenyatta and Elizabeth Fiedler, all leaders of the Philadelphia Delegation in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, today said they were stunned upon learning the news that House Republican leaders kept secret the fact that a state legislator who worked among fellow lawmakers and staff tested positive for COVID-19.  

State Rep. Andrew Lewis, R-Dauphin, said in a news release today that he tested positive for COVID-19 on May 20 and informed the “House of Representatives” and the Republican Caucus human relations department. Lebanon County Republican Rep. Russ Diamond also said today he was aware of it on May 21. Dawkins said that while Republicans may have been informed of Lewis testing positive for the deadly virus, and while multiple Republican members went into self-quarantine as a result, not a single Democratic lawmaker was informed, including Democratic leadership.

“To say I am outraged at this reckless behavior by House Republican leadership is an understatement,” said Dawkins, chairman of the delegation. “Any lawmaker or staff who came in contact with this representative during committee meetings and during House session was put at risk. And, in turn, they may have put their own families at risk. The withholding of this information is a blatant disregard of human life and the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed thousands of Pennsylvanians and hundreds of thousands across the globe.

“Being from a different political party should not be a death sentence. But it seems as though the Republican leaders and House officials who kept this quiet from Democratic members and staff, and even their own staff, handed down that sentence.”

Fiedler, who is secretary of the delegation, agreed.

“The lives of our family, friends and neighbors are at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Fiedler said. “It is disrespectful and appalling that our Republican colleagues put those lives at risk, as well as our own and the lives of staff people on both sides of the aisle.”

Dawkins noted the habitual indifference of GOP lawmakers to the virus.

“Frankly, the blatant rejection of social distancing, masking and other safety protocols by members of the Republican caucus since Governor Wolf rightly issued the emergency declaration and stay-at-home order has been appalling,” Dawkins said. “President Trump’s constant repeating of the message that Democrats are using this as a hoax seems to have led to some now not caring that Democrats get sick, or worse, die.

"Government officials should be leading by example. If this is the example they want to set, it’s time for them to go,” he said.

Kenyatta, vice chairman of the delegation, shared the sentiment.

“I’m angry. I’m disturbed. But mostly I want answers,” Kenyatta said. “Republican House leadership KNEW for at least a week that a GOP member tested positive for COVID-19 and told us nothing. They have railed to reopen the state immediately — science be damned — even as their own members were self-quarantining. They said nothing as we were sitting across from them in the House chamber and small committee meeting rooms.

“Today Matt and I were tested. As I await the results, I also am also waiting for answers and accountability. Speaker Turzai has failed in his responsibility to keep members of the House safe. He should step down immediately,” Kenyatta added.  

The delegation is calling on Republican leaders and those in charge who knew about this positive case and kept it secret from Democratic members and staff, especially those who were exposed to Lewis during House session and in committee meetings, should resign immediately.