Stay Updated on Developing Stories

How a positive coronavirus test sent this state's legislature into chaos

(CNN) On May 20, Pennsylvania state Rep. Andrew Lewis, a Republican, tested positive for the coronavirus.

On May 27 -- aka Wednesday -- his Democratic colleagues say he finally told them about the positive test -- in a statement, no less!

Wrote Lewis:

"On Monday, May 18, I was tested for COVID-19 and on Wednesday, May 20, I was notified that my test came back positive. I immediately began self-isolation protocol and contacted the House of Representatives, and our caucus Human Resources department. My last day in the Capitol was Thursday, May 14."

He then added, by way of explanation, that he had waited an entire week to go public with this information "out of respect for my family, and those who I may have exposed."


So, "out of respect" for his family and people he might have infected with the coronavirus, he decided not to broadcast that he had contracted Covid-19? That's uh, not how it works.

Which is the point that Pennsylvania House Democratic leader Frank Dermody made after learning Wednesday about Lewis's diagnosis.

"Knowing how House members and staff work closely together at the Capitol, we should have been made aware of this much sooner," said Dermody. "In the last two weeks alone, there were six days of voting session here at the Capitol and more than 15 separate meetings of House committees voting on dozens of bills. For those members who journeyed to the Capitol in person, each of these meetings raises the risk of possible exposure."

Lewis added that he followed the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's workplace exposure guidelines to determine who may have been exposed, saying, "I can confirm every member or staff member who met the criteria for exposure was immediately contacted and required to self-isolate for 14 days from their date of possible exposure."

But if Dermody says House Democrats weren't informed -- and they all share the same space -- how is that possible?

Because here's what we know about the coronavirus: It's a pretty good spreader. On average, someone who has it gives it to two-plus other people.

And here's another thing we know about the coronavirus: Asymptomatic transmission is possible. Meaning that people could well have the virus -- and give it to others -- before they themselves start feeling sick.

So, it is absolutely incumbent upon all of us that when and if we start feeling sick with things like fatigue, fever and coughing -- or someone with whom we have interacted closely feels that way -- that we not only self-quarantine but make sure that anyone that we might have interacted with does the same. And it's also important -- because of the transmissibility and the asymptomatic transmission -- that you spread that net of who you might have infected wider rather than narrower.

Ask yourself this: What harm would it have done for Lewis to tell every single member of the state House -- and even the state Senate -- that he had tested positive for coronavirus on the day he knew he had? Sure, it would have required more people to get tested. And would likely have caused a bit more anxiety for people who thought they might have been exposed. But if they actually had the virus, wouldn't they have been better off going to get tested so they could be treated?

That's a rhetorical question. Because the answer is, obviously, "yes."

What Lewis seemingly did -- abetted, apparently, by his House Republican colleagues -- is act selfishly in a situation in which unselfishness is the answer. The only way that we beat back coronavirus -- or at least keep a second surge of the virus from happening -- is by understanding that we are all actually in this together.

Republicans and Democrats get this virus. And can give it to each other.

How we win is by being transparent, understanding that more information is better than less information and by really grasping that our actions have impacts well beyond just us and our immediate family.

Unfortunately, what happened in Pennsylvania appears to be an example of doing the exact opposite of all of that.