After testing positive for COVID-19, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said his view on mask mandates hasn’t changed, as Wisconsin Republican leaders have voiced their support for striking down the state’s order requiring face coverings be worn.
The Oshkosh Republican, who announced Saturday morning he had tested positive for the virus the previous day, instead touted “individual responsibility,” saying while he believes masks can help mitigate the risk, they’re “certainly not a cure-all.”
Johnson, who is at least the third Republican U.S. senator to have contracted the coronavirus recently, said he was tested on his way to the Ozaukee County Republican Party Oktoberfest Dinner in Mequon on Friday night, though he didn't get the results back til later on.
In between, he still attended the event, saying he wore his mask until he spoke and stayed "at least 12 feet from anybody as [he was] speaking." He said he quickly left the dinner after his remarks.
Asked whether he was told to self-quarantine after getting tested and while awaiting results, Johnson said there was “no reason to do so.”
“I’m not sick,” he said. “I have no symptoms. I certainly didn’t anticipate testing positive, so there was no reason to quarantine.”
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends those who are tested should isolate at home pending results, as well as follow the advice of one’s health care provider. After getting his positive result, which he said happened later in the evening after he left the event, Johnson's office said he's planning to remain in isolation now until he's cleared by his doctor.
The latest news comes after a tumultuous week in which President Donald Trump, who had planned two campaign rallies in Wisconsin this weekend, tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized. But at the state level, top Republicans who control the Legislature filed a motion backing a lawsuit that aims to get rid of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' statewide mask mandate, which expires Nov. 21.
COVID-19 cases are surging in Wisconsin, with the state breaking daily records for new cases and deaths in recent days.
Johnson, who said he's not experiencing any symptoms and has not received any medical treatment tied to his diagnosis, also seemed unconcerned about how he was exposed to the virus, saying he suspected it originated from his chief of staff last month.
“I don’t blame anybody for this. We have a pandemic with a contagious disease,” he said, adding later: “To me, I don’t care where I might have got it from.”
Johnson said he got tested after hearing on a conference call Friday that fellow Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah contracted the virus.
Despite the cases, Johnson said he believed Republican senators are “doing a pretty good job” of taking the pandemic seriously, noting that people are wearing masks inside and “definitely doing the social distancing.”
“I’ll let other people convey their judgments in terms of ‘Have we done a good enough job?’ but I think we’re being responsible. I believe I certainly have been,” he said.
Going forward, Johnson said he didn’t expect the positive COVID-19 cases would delay the confirmation process of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court pick.
Politico, citing two anonymous sources, reported Saturday that while the Senate is currently scheduled to return to D.C. on Monday to begin voting on judicial nominees, the body will recess until Oct. 19. The Senate Judiciary Committee, the report notes, could still meet and there's so far no indications the panel's Oct. 12 confirmation hearing of Barrett will be delayed.
He also said he hoped his colleagues were taking precautions including self-isolating so the vote could proceed, though he noted the Senate has “pretty well perfected the web-based hearings.”
Johnson said he had self-quarantined for much of last month after he was possibly exposed to the virus in mid-September, skipping a planned rally with Trump in Mosinee on Sept. 17. His isolation ended Sept. 29, and he returned to D.C. then.
This time, in addition to Johnson planning to remain in isolation until he's cleared by his doctor, his spokesman said his D.C. office will work completely remotely for the foreseeable future.
In addition to Johnson and Lee, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina has also tested positive for COVID-19.
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