COVID-19 in Pa.: State House postpones voting until Oct. 19 after lawmaker tests positive
White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx addresses the latest pandemic questions on children's vulnerability to COVID-19. York Daily Record
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is postponing all voting for nearly three weeks after a lawmaker tested positive for COVID-19.
Work before the Legislature, including election reform and financial relief for renters and landlords, will not advance until at least Oct. 19, when the House reconvenes about two weeks before Election Day.
Rep. Paul Schemel, a Republican from Franklin County, in a statement said he began to feel sick on Wednesday and received the positive test result Thursday.
He was most recently in the Capitol on Tuesday and started to self-quarantine when he experienced symptoms Wednesday.
“As soon as I received a positive test result on Thursday, I informed the appropriate House offices," said Schemel, a Greencastle lawyer. "I am following the advice of medical professionals and the protocols of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to ensure the safety of my family, staff, and fellow members.”
The House voting session scheduled for Thursday was canceled "out of an abundance of caution for Capitol staff, caucus employees and members," according to a statement from House Speaker Bryan Cutler, a Republican from Lancaster County.
Cutler said the member is working with human resources to do contract tracing in line with recommendations from the state Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Those who may have been exposed are being contacted," Cutler said.
A significant number of House Republicans have continued to be maskless inside the Capitol, and some have ridiculed mask wearing as an overreaction or ineffective.
During a gun-rights rally on the Capitol steps on Tuesday, several House GOP members were not wearing masks amid the crowd of a few hundred at the outdoor event. Others were maskless in the Rotunda and hallways.
Rep. Russ Diamond, a Republican from Lebanon County, who has been vocal in his opposition to mask wearing, said Schemel's test result would not change his own behavior, or his belief that masks do not help spread infection.
"I've seen him wearing a mask," Diamond said. "So you know, it is what it is."
The House chamber, meeting rooms and staff work areas are being professionally sanitized as they have been during the pandemic.
“First and foremost we are concerned about people’s safety," House Minority Leader Frank Dermody said. "This is yet another reminder that the virus is not going away and all of us need to keep following the simple steps such as washing hands, watching our distance from others, wearing masks and staying alert."
There were recently multiple COVID-19 cases in Senate offices and other parts of the Capitol.
Dermody, a Democrat from Allegheny County, said news of another case at the Capitol was "very disheartening, especially when some inside the Capitol still resist taking proper precautions. We hope the legislator affected will recover quickly.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Candy Woodall is a reporter for the USA Today Network. She can be reached at 717-480-1783 or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.