Pennsylvania House Speaker Resigns Amid Claims He Hid Member’s COVID-19 Diagnosis

June 12, 2020 by Reece Nations
Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai.

A top member of Pennsylvania’s state Republican leadership is stepping down amid claims his party withheld information concerning a GOP representative’s coronavirus diagnosis. 

Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai announced Wednesday he is leaving the Legislature before his term ends in November.

Turzai, who had previously declared he would not seek reelection, announced his departure two weeks after Rep. Andrew Lewis publicly disclosed he was diagnosed with novel coronavirus and had been in self-isolation. 

The same day Lewis went public with his diagnosis, Democratic Representative Brian Sims posted a video on Facebook in which he accused House GOP leadership of purposefully withholding knowledge of Lewis’ infection for about a week or longer.

Sims, throughout the course of the 12-minute recording, lambasted House GOP leaders for not disclosing the diagnosis while they simultaneously attempted to fast-track the state’s plan to reopen the economy. Sims also revealed in the video that in January he donated a kidney and was waiting to acknowledge the procedure publicly until after his November election.

“I just spent the better part of 11 weeks sitting across the room from people who would eventually test positive and decided not to tell us,” Sims said in the video. “They did some kind of quarantine. They did do some kind of contact tracing. They — I guess being Republican leadership.”

Lewis in an online statement said his last day in the Capitol was May 14, he was tested on May 18 and his results came back positive on May 20. Although he began self-isolation protocol and contacted the Human Resources Department, House Democratic leadership was not made aware of Lewis’ coronavirus status until May 27.

Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 death toll has reached more than 6,000 and the national death toll stands at more than 112,000, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. Lewis, who has since recovered from the virus, said in the statement he withheld his test results out of respect for the colleagues he may have exposed and his family.

“Now that I have fully recovered and completed the quarantine as required by the Department of Health, I feel now is the appropriate time to share this information with the public and my constituents,” Lewis said in the statement. “I look forward to being a resource in sharing my experiences with COVID-19 and helping our community navigate this crisis together.”

After Lewis’ announcement, Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health, joined Sims and a chorus of Democratic state lawmakers in calling for Turzai’s resignation. Sims and other Pennsylvania Democrats also demanded Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office investigate the matter.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend anyone aware of their own exposure to COVID-19 who may have exposed others in the workplace to the virus should immediately be separated from all other individuals and sent home. Workers who develop symptoms outside of work should stay home and notify their supervisor.

The only states with more confirmed cases of coronavirus than Pennsylvania are California, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Illinois, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker. Pennsylvania’s Democratic Governor Tom Wolf renewed the state’s emergency disaster declaration, allowing state agencies to continue to set aside resources for regions where businesses and public areas are beginning to reopen.

Although he was pleased to hear of Lewis’ recovery, House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody said the Republican’s lack of communication put congressional leaders — and by extension their families — at risk. 

“This attitude shows a fundamental lack of respect for fellow lawmakers, our staff, and our families back home,” Dermody said in the statement. “On their behalf, we are demanding more answers about this than we’ve received thus far.”

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