Philly’s coronavirus response

Why Harrisburg is feuding over a state rep’s hush-hush coronavirus test

Also, Brian Sims donated a kidney?

State Rep. Lewis and Rep. Sims

State Rep. Lewis and Rep. Sims

Lewis: Facebook; Sims: Flickr / Philadelphia City Council

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Pennsylvania’s top law enforcement official was asked to investigate the legislature’s Republican leadership after it allegedly withheld info from Pa. Democrats about a lawmaker testing positive for the coronavirus. Wait, what? Read on.

Northeast Philly state Rep. Kevin Boyle wrote to AG Josh Shapiro Thursday morning, urging him to “investigate the actions of House Republican lawmakers and leaders and any House officials who failed to duly notify lawmakers and staff of Rep. Andrew Lewis’ COVID-19 positive test.” On Thursday afternoon, Shapiro issued a statement declining to conduct a criminal investigation.

Lewis, of the 105th District in Central Pa., announced on Wednesday that he’d tested positive on May 20, and immediately went into self-quarantine.

Democrats, especially Lewis’ co-members on the State Government Committee, were outraged it took an entire week for them to find out about the COVID-19 case among their colleagues. One of those comembers, Rep. Brian Sims of Philadelphia, posted an impassioned Facebook video in which he revealed he’d just donated a kidney. Others rushed to get themselves tested.

In his letter to Shapiro whether “any state laws or ethics rules were violated, and why CDC and Department of Health rules were not adhered to.”

There have been calls for Lewis to resign — along with House Speaker Mike Turzai and state Rep. Russ Diamond, who also went into unannounced self-quarantine due to his close contact with Lewis. Rumors also began to swirl about other GOP reps testing positive without revealing the info.

The saga came to a head on Wednesday afternoon, and by Thursday was making national news — even former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg tweeted about it. Here’s how it all went down.

Lewis tests positive for coronavirus

Lewis, whose district lies between Harrisburg and Hershey, posted on Facebook Wednesday afternoon that he had suffered a “mild” case of COVID-19. After feeling under the weather, he was tested on May 18, and received his positive result on May 20.

As he battled a fever and cough, Lewis said he “immediately began self-isolation protocol” and alerted the human resources department of the House Republican Caucus. He said every staff member who came in close contact with him was alerted and told to self-isolate for 14 days.

At least one of them was Rep. Russ Diamond, a Republican from Lebanon County, who sits in front of Lewis in the House chamber. He said he was notified of his exposure on May 21 and went into self-quarantine.

But Democrats say they were never told

House Democrats say they didn’t hear about Lewis’ positive test for an entire week — until the Associated Press reported it on Wednesday.

Meantime, the Pennsylvania Legislature had been meeting regularly, and members were working in close contact with each other. That includes the House State Government Committee, of which Lewis is a member.

Philly state reps start sounding off

Then came the avalanche of angry social media posts.

The reaction to Lewis’ confirmation of his positive test was swift. Several of Philly’s state reps jumped online to express their frustration that they were put at risk without being notified.

“They sat on this information for two weeks,” said 200th District Rep. Chris Rabb on Facebook Live yesterday. “They did not have the decency to say one of our members has tested positive, so we don’t want you all to be in close proximity.”

After finding out about the positive test, North Philly state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta said he immediately went out and got tested himself.

The most heated reaction of all came from Rep. Brian Sims, who revealed he recently donated a kidney — which can impact your immune system.

“Every single day that our gerrymandered Republican leadership has been calling us up into this building so they could pass these ridiculous bills, pretending it was safe to be out there, they were covering up that it wasn’t safe,” Sims said during an 11-minute Facebook Live rant.

Throughout the video, Sims repeatedly called on Turzai and other GOP House leaders to resign.

Turzai says he’d back changing COVID rules

Thursday afternoon, House Speaker Turzai told the chamber that he’d support a rule change requiring legislators to reveal positive coronavirus test results, per the Capital-Star. Throwing his colleagues lightly under the bus, he added that if it was him, he’d “immediately self-disclose.”

Meanwhile, Diamond, the Republican state representative who self-quarantined after being in close contact with Lewis, staunchly defended his actions.

“The Republican Caucus followed the exact requirements from the Governor’s Office in notifying those folks and as a result those people self-quarantined immediately,” Diamond said in a statement. “I don’t believe I was ever in any danger, and took action with an overabundance of caution.”

By the end of the day on Thursday, Sims claimed he had heard that another Republican representative tested positive — but those rumors are as yet unconfirmed.

Want some more? Explore other Philly’s coronavirus response stories.

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