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More than one-quarter of Congress has had COVID-19

More than one-quarter of all House and Senate lawmakers reported having COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic nearly two years ago, according to data analyzed by The Hill.

In total, 152 lawmakers, which includes seven who reported having antibodies and two presumed cases, had COVID-19 since January 2020.

Republicans made up 82 of those individuals, while 69 Democrats and one independent made up the rest. The majority of infections in the House occurred among GOP lawmakers at 67 infections compared to 60 Democrats in that chamber.

In the Senate, 15 Republicans, nine Democrats and one independent reported having COVID-19 since 2020.

Rep. Ron Wright (R-Texas), who tested positive in January 2021, is the only member of Congress to die from the virus while in office. Rep.-elect Luke Letlow (R-La.) died in December 2020, five days before his swearing-in ceremony was scheduled.

The case count, as of March 9, reflects a fresh bout of infections reported by five Democrats last week just before President Biden's State of the Union address in which all lawmakers were required to be tested in order to attend the speech in person.

But the highest congressional caseload of the pandemic occurred in the first month of 2022, with 31 lawmakers testing positive as the omicron variant swept the country. Three of those lawmakers -- Reps. Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y) and Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) -- reported their second positive test during that time.

Nine more lawmakers tested positive in February 2022: five House Democrats, one Senate Democrat and three Senate Republicans.

During the summer wave of 2020, Republicans experienced significantly higher infection rates. But more recent spikes of cases with the delta and omicron variants show the virus knows no party lines -- with Democrats outpacing Republicans in infections during the wave that peaked in summer 2021.

In all, data analyzed by The Hill included lawmaker statements, reported dates of infection or testing, and reported vaccination status. The Hill used a public spreadsheet kept by PBS NewsHour correspondent Lisa Desjardins as the basis for its own analysis.

About one-third of House lawmakers and one-quarter of the 100-member Senate have had one or more confirmed cases of COVID-19. There's also a small contingent of lawmakers who have tested positive for antibodies, indicating they were infected but at an unknown time.

Lawmakers from 42 states have reported testing positive since the start of the pandemic with several of those cases being among lawmakers who hail from states with some of the lowest full vaccination rates in the country, including Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, West Virginia and Georgia.

But lawmakers who hail from states with higher vaccination rates could not escape infection -- even after receiving booster shots made available by the Biden administration to all adults just before Thanksgiving.

Seventy-eight lawmakers reported so-called breakthrough infections with 51 of those cases occurring in lawmakers who said they had booster shots. Three lawmakers -- Grijalva, Hayes and Espaillat -- reported a second case of COVID-19 after receiving a third vaccine shot.

Capitol physician Brian Monahan released a memo in early January reporting that the seven-day average positivity rate among those tested at the Capitol jumped from less than 1 percent to greater than 13 percent, marking the start of the omicron wave that would account for many of the breakthrough cases.

Many vaccinated lawmakers reported mild symptoms of the virus but at least one of those lawmakers, Rep. Jim Hagedorn (R-Minn.), was hospitalized in January as a precaution amid his battle with kidney cancer. He died in February.

Six House Republicans -- Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.), Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (Ind.), Rep. Thomas Massie (Ky.), Rep. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) and then-Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.) -- reported having antibodies.

Two Senate Democrats -- Tim Kaine of Virginia and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania -- also reported testing positive for antibodies.

Almost all lawmakers who have tested positive for COVID-19 have released statements announcing their test results through their office or on social media, predominantly Twitter. Democrats were more likely to urge vaccinations in those messages.

Of the 43 Republicans who have had COVID-19 since vaccines were made available to members of Congress in late December 2020, two Republicans -- Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) and Troy Nehls (Texas) -- have urged vaccination. Another eight have thanked vaccinations for protecting them against harsh symptoms.

Out of the 49 Democrats who have tested positive and have released statements in that same time frame, 42 referred positively to the vaccine and 30 of those urged vaccinations outright.

Just before Biden's State of the Union, Monahan, the Capitol physician, once again recommended lifting the House chamber's mask mandate and instead make face coverings optional throughout the complex.

Monahan said positive COVID-19 test rates at the Capitol are down to 2.7 percent in the past two weeks, below the current rate for the D.C.-Metropolitan area.

That guidance came just days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased its mask guidance for most Americans, guidelines that are now based more on preserving hospital capacity than previous metrics that relied on caseloads.

Masks intended to prevent spread of infection have been at the center of some spats between lawmakers on Capitol Hill, where Democrats perceive some Republicans as unconcerned about getting other people sick, while GOP lawmakers express anger over rules they think are unnecessary.

The most notable recent example on Capitol Hill came earlier this month when Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) shared that one of the House's longest serving lawmakers, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) told her "kiss my ass" after she asked him to put on a face covering before boarding a train on the way to a vote. Rogers said he later met Beatty to apologize.

"My words were not acceptable and I expressed my regret to her, first and foremost," he said.

[Source: By Caitlin McLean and Julia Mueller, The Hill, Washington, 09Mar22]

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