The members tested positive Friday evening and Saturday morning, Texas House Democratic Caucus officials said.
WASHINGTON –– Three Texas lawmakers who flew to Washington earlier this week to stop consideration of an election bill have tested positive for COVID-19, the Texas House Democratic Caucus said Saturday.
The members – part of a group of more than 50 legislators who broke quorum and fled from Austin – were not named in the release, though Rep. Celia Israel of Austin later released a statement confirming she had tested positive for the virus. One member tested positive on Friday and immediately informed staffers. On Saturday morning, two additional legislators – one of them Israel – tested positive. According to the caucus, members and staff immediately took rapid tests and tested negative. The three members who tested positive are fully vaccinated, the caucus said.
Israel said she is doing well and currently quarantining until she tests negative. She thanked both her Republican and Democratic colleagues for their well wishes.
“Let this be a reminder that COVID-19 is still very much among us, with infection rates on the rise and more contagious variants spreading nationwide,” Israel said in a statement.
In Washington, COVID rates remain low, with about 1.8% of COVID-19 tests coming back positive. Officials say about 53.3% of residents are fully vaccinated and 62.2% are partially or full vaccinated.
Most members have been going maskless while making their rounds at the Capitol and gathering at the hotel they’re staying in.
According to the Austin American-Statesman, which first reported the news, members will begin testing regularly for the virus. The three positive members will receive the more accurate PCR coronavirus test and isolate for 10 days before a follow-up test, the Statesman reported.
There has been an uptick in coronavirus cases in the past few weeks thanks to the highly contagious delta variant. Most new cases are among unvaccinated individuals, but fully vaccinated people can also contract the virus, albeit with lesser symptoms.
The caucus said it is following CDC guidance for fully vaccinated people that states exposure to a positive case does not warrant additional precautions if they experience no symptoms.
“This is a sober reminder that COVID is still with us, and though vaccinations offer tremendous protection, we still must take necessary precautions,” said Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie. “We are in touch with public health experts in Texas to provide additional guidance. Our caucus will follow all recommendations from public health experts as we continue our work.”
Vice President Kamala Harris met with the legislators on Tuesday, but her office said based on the timeline of positives tests, Harris and her staff at the meeting weren’t at risk of exposure because they had not been in close contact with those who tested positive. Because of that, Harris and her staff don’t need to be tested and quarantined. The vice president and her staff also are fully vaccinated.
In a statement, House Speaker Dade Phelan expressed concern for the members and said he had contacted the state’s top public health official for guidance.
“Kim and I extend our prayers for safety and health for the members of the Texas House Democratic Caucus who tested positive for COVID-19 while in Washington, D.C. My staff has reached out to Dr. John Hellerstedt, Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, and his epidemiology team for any additional guidance on protocols for those exposed to COVID-19 post-vaccination.”
While many Republican colleagues tweeted best wishes for a swift recovery, conservatives and vaccine skeptics erupted with social-media posts ridiculing the Texas Democrats. Some accused them of being sanctimonious about COVID-19; others, of lacking organizational skills.
Back in Austin, in a brief Saturday continuation of their ongoing, never-recessed session that began Tuesday when the Democrats’ flight was officially recognized, about 20 House Republicans gathered as scheduled on the House floor.
Under House rules and the state Constitution, the Texas House can’t do any business when there’s a fuss under way over whether a quorum is present. But under a 1950 parliamentary precedent set by the U.S. House, a daily prayer, customarily given at the start of a daily session, isn’t considered business, Phelan aides have said.
As he delivered Saturday’s prayer, Rep. Ken King, a Republican from Canadian in the Panhandle, took note of the news about three missing Democrats who have contracted the virus.”For those that chose to be absent, please grant them travel mercies and healing for those that are in need of it right now,” King said.
Alluding to a paternal banquet given for a wayward son in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, King added wryly, “While I’m certain that no fatted calves will be slaughtered when our colleagues come home, I do pray for your guiding hand to be with us as we resume our work.”
Phelan reminded members that under House rules, during a “call of the House,” they need a note from him to be allowed to leave the chamber. Each day, the papers have a different color. ”Today’s permission slips are prairie sky blue from deep in the heart of Texas,” Phelan quipped. About 20 minutes later, Phelan turned on his mic to announce members were free to go but should return to the chamber at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Since Monday, Phelan gradually has ratcheted up pressure on the missing Democrats.
At first, he chided them. Then he pressed them to take active steps to shut off a flow of living expenses money — $221 a day — that lawmakers receive while the Legislature is in session.
On Thursday, he stripped El Paso Democratic Rep. Joe Moody of his post as the chamber’s speaker pro tem.
Phelan also announced he was tapping campaign funds to send a chartered plane to Dulles International in Northern Virginia on Saturday to fetch the runaway Democrats.
“I am demanding all of our colleagues in D.C. [accept a] seat on the plane and return to Austin in order to do the state’s business,” Phelan said in a written statement Thursday. “The state of Texas is waiting.”
By 4:30 p.m. Saturday, though, Phelan spokesman Enrique Marquez acknowledged that no Democrats took the speaker up on his offer.
“The charter will be cancelled if our office has not heard from members as of 6 PM/CST,” Marquez said in a text message.
It was not immediately if Phelan’s campaign fund incurred any costs from flight preparations or the time of prospective pilots and crew.
Raga Justin reported from Washington D.C. and Robert T. Garrett reported from Austin. Washington Bureau Chief Todd J. Gillman contributed to this report.