NC lawmaker tests positive for coronavirus
Posted July 10, 2020 1:08 p.m. EDT
Updated July 10, 2020 7:54 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — A Republican state senator has tested positive for coronavirus, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said Friday.
Lawmakers were in Raleigh this week for a brief legislative session, and the senator, whom Berger didn't identify, took a test before the session and was negative.
The senator hasn't had any COVID-19 symptoms, but he took a second test Thursday – after lawmakers returned home – because his wife was scheduled for a medical procedure, Berger said. This time, the test came back positive.
Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson, later identified himself as the one testing positive and apologized to his colleagues.
Britt responded to a tweet by Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, complaining about GOP lawmakers not wearing masks to note that he developed a condition while deployed to Iraq and Kuwait that makes it hard for him to breathe with a mask on.
Masks became a very partisan issue over the course of the session.
"Why are you not wearing a mask? Why are you putting me and all of us at risk by not wearing a mask?" Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, demanded of a Republican colleague during a debate on the House floor in June.
Meyer and other Democrats sent letters to Republican House and Senate leaders three weeks ago asking for more safeguards.
"We’ve petitioned for mandatory masks at the legislature, asked to only have essential personnel there, asked for testing," Meyer said Friday. "But the leadership and the administration of the legislature building have refused all of those requests."
Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore have recommended masks but haven't required them. Even those lawmakers who wear them often take them off to debate, which is when they’re most likely to spread virus if they have it.
The only pandemic-related requirement at the Legislative Building has been a temperature check at the door. Because Britt is asymptomatic, it wouldn’t have caught him anyway.
"Now that we have a member who’s diagnosed, maybe we’ll see some actual preventative measures," Meyer said. "But I have been really disappointed with the cavalier attitude that we have seen legislators take up to this point."
Mississippi could serve as a cautionary tale. Twenty-six state lawmakers there were infected this week, including both chamber leaders, as well as at least a dozen staffers.
All other North Carolina senators have been notified of Britt's status, Berger said, but there was no immediate word on plans to test legislative staff and others who were in the building this week.
"We’re all susceptible," Meyer said. "If we’re going to do the people’s business, we need to do it in a way that we take care of each other."
Britt is at least the third person tied to the legislature who has been infected by the virus.
An unidentified lobbyist tested positive after meeting with lawmakers during their session last month, and a cafeteria worker in the Legislative Building tested positive in early April, when the General Assembly wasn't in session.