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GUEST EDITORIAL: Pa. Republicans betrayed our trust and risked lives

The Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial Board (TNS)
State Rep. Russ Diamond (front left) said he was told to self-quarantine after Rep. Andrew Lewis (front right) tested positive for COVID-19.

Most 10-year-old children understand the dangers of the coronavirus and the importance of exercising safe behavior. Walmart and Acme shoppers understand why they have to stand in line to get into the stores — and wear masks while they shop.

For all the things we still don’t know about COVID-19, including how to stop it, most of us now know the basic steps we should take not to put others in danger — and most of us do them.

Those who don’t include gun-toting protesters who claim the wearing of masks undermine their liberty, and the crazy people who deliberately cough or spit on people to terrorize them.

More:Pa. House Democrats say they were in the dark for a week about Republican’s positive coronavirus test

It also apparently includes Pennsylvania House Republicans, who failed to fully notify members from both sides of the aisle when a state representative tested positive for the coronavirus.

According to a Spotlight PA report, Republican member Andrew Lewis reported to House officials that he tested positive on May 20. Lewis went into isolation, and House officials told at least one, and possibly other Republicans, of their potential exposure and to self-quarantine — but that notification did not extend to Democrats.

This is an undated file photo of Pennsylvania state Rep. Andrew Lewis, R-Dauphin. A bitter partisan fight over a Lewis's decision to wait a week before disclosing his COVID-19 diagnosis spread to the House floor Thursday, May 28, 2020,  and the state attorney general declined to investigate. The Legislature has continued to meet during the pandemic. Lewis, from a Harrisburg-area district, said he was tested two weeks ago, learned the results last week and stayed quiet out of respect for others in his circle. (Martin Boutros/The Patriot-News via AP)

This is in spite of the fact that the member in question was serving on the State Government Committee that has continued to meet regularly in Harrisburg. (Members have the option of voting remotely.) Committee meetings are not held in chambers, but in smaller meeting rooms, and have typically been attended by about 20 people, including members and staff.

The leadership claimed it was following CDC guidelines in notifying those who had been in close proximity to Lewis. That strains credibility, since “close proximity” surely includes the meetings held in rooms too small to allow safe social distancing. Also, since many Republican members refuse to follow CDC guidelines about wearing masks, why should we believe they would follow some guidelines and not others?

House leadership also cited HIPAA for keeping the news of the infection quiet. (In fact, the Pennsylvania General Assembly is not a covered entity under HIPAA.) Notification to those exposed would not require the name of the infected person, but only that exposure to someone testing positive occurred. Those exposed could then make decisions that would keep their families safe. Besides, why not err on the side of safety — if not human decency?

We elect these officials to represent the public and to act on our behalf — and in our best interest, no matter what our political party. That a potentially fatal virus could have been used as a chip to inflict political damage is appalling.

If it’s not treasonous, it is certainly traitorous to the public trust.

Some Democrats are calling for an investigation and possible criminal charges. No one is accusing this leadership of intentionally infecting others. On the other hand, drivers who end up killing someone when driving drunk are made culpable.

At the very least, House leadership owes all Pennsylvanians an apology and a far more detailed explanation of how they plan to regain the public’s trust moving forward.

These are the actions of the committee debating the safe reopening of the state. We are suddenly very, very frightened for our future.

— From The Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial Board