U.S. lawmaker tests positive for COVID-19 after Capitol siege

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman is seen in an undated handout photograph. U.S. House of Representatives/Handout via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A 75-year-old U.S. lawmaker on Monday said she had tested positive for COVID-19 after being locked down to avoid a mob attacking the U.S. Capitol last week, saying she believed she was exposed while sheltering in place with maskless colleagues.

U.S. Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman, a New Jersey Democrat, said in a statement that a rapid test result came back positive and that she was awaiting the results of a more comprehensive test, noting that she had already received the first shot of the two-dose coronavirus vaccine.

Congress’ attending physician said lawmakers who hid together for hours in a closed room to avoid Wednesday’s mob may have been exposed to the coronavirus by an infected person. Some 200 people, including scores of House members, sheltered for hours in a closed room where a number of Republicans did not wear masks.

“She believes she was exposed during protective isolation in the U.S. Capitol building as a result of insurrectionist riots,” Watson Coleman’s office said in a statement.

Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, who has made COVID-19 pandemic a top priority, told reporters he was appalled that Republican lawmakers refused to wear masks while hunkered down even when others passed them out: “It’s not a political issue. It’s an issue of public safety.”

Health officials and experts have warned the attack will likely be a superspreader event, noting lawmakers were isolated for hours inside while a violent crowd of mostly maskless Trump supporters stormed inside in an unsuccessful bid to block lawmakers’ certification of Biden’s presidential win.

“You have to anticipate that this is another surge event,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield told McClatchy News on Friday. “These individuals all are going in cars and trains and planes going home all across the country right now. So I do think this is an event that will probably lead to a significant spreading event.”

“We’re going to see chains of transmission come out of that kind of a gathering for sure,” former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told the CBS News program “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

Reporting by Susan Heavey and Trevor Hunnicutt; editing by Jonathan Oatis