House Minority Whip Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, leaves the House floor wearing gloves and a mask after the morning legislative session, Tuesday, March 24, 2020, at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. The House session will be the first in state history where members can vote remotely die to the coronavirus outbreak.
Cynthia Fernandez covers the most important news and events from the Capitol and state legislature. She is a member of the second class of Lenfest Fellows, a program of the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and supported by the Independence Public Media Foundation. Cynthia joined Spotlight PA from Boston, where she recently completed an undergraduate degree in journalism, with a concentration in computer science, from Boston University. She has interned at several news organizations, including Muck Rock, WBUR, and Boston Magazine. Most recently, she was a part-time breaking news reporter at the Boston Globe and a research assistant for their Spotlight team. A Cuban immigrant and Miami native, Cynthia is particularly interested in reporting on marginalized communities and how they interface with institutional and governmental systems.
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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.
🚨 Right now at least 16 Reps. are on the PA STATE HOUSE FLOOR not wearing masks. Seriously. They’re doing this EVEN THOUGH their members have tested positive for COVID-19 *twice.* It’s disrespectful to workers and putting members, staff (& all our families) at risk.
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.