Pa. lawmaker claims Capitol unsafe after fifth member tests positive for COVID-19

  • Cynthia Fernandez/Spotlight PA

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(Harrisburg) — A state lawmaker has filed a formal complaint against the Pennsylvania House alleging unsafe working conditions, citing potential exposure risks after another member tested positive for the coronavirus.

Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler (D., Philadelphia) said the move was prompted by another rise in COVID-19 cases and concerns about Republican lawmakers refusing to wear face masks or social distance on the floor or during committee meetings.

“This drastic step reflects the high stakes that we face in protecting the health and safety of all staff and members who step foot in the building, as well as their families and communities at home,” Fiedler said in a statement.

Rep. Jim Gregory (R., Blair) announced Thursday evening he had tested positive for COVID-19. Gregory said in a statement he wore a mask when he was last in the Capitol on Nov. 10.

“My symptoms started in a minor way that initially made me believe I had a head cold,” he said in a statement. “When I developed a fever, I eliminated contact with others and sought out a COVID-19 test.”

Gregory is the second Pennsylvania lawmaker to announce a positive test this week and the fifth known case since the pandemic began earlier this year.

Rep. Jordan Harris (D., Philadelphia) said in a statement Wednesday he had tested positive after coming in close contact with a member of the community who experienced symptoms. Harris is working remotely as the legislature works to finish a budget for the remaining seven months of the fiscal year.

COVID-19 cases are exponentially increasing across the state, while hospitalizations are also rising. Some members of the Republican caucus were on the House floor this week without masks, in defiance of national health standards that encourage people to wear them.

Joined by more than a dozen other maskless members earlier this month during a news conference on the election, Rep. Russ Diamond (R., Lebanon) explained his reasoning: “We are not afraid.”

House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R., Lancaster) has asked members to wear masks on the floor, his spokesperson said, though “we don’t know what arrangements members may have made with HR.”

“Additionally, the constitution establishes the right of elected House members to be on the House floor,” Michael Straub, the spokesperson, said in an email.

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