Two members of Congress test positive for coronavirus

By Paul LeBlanc, CNN

(CNN) -- Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ben McAdams have become the first members of Congress to test positive for coronavirus, a grim new indicator of the virus' aggressive spread.

"On Saturday evening, Congressman Diaz-Balart developed symptoms including a fever and headache. Just a short while ago, he was notified that he has tested positive for COVID-19," his office said in a news release.

The Florida Republican said in a statement that he is "feeling much better" but urged the public to take the virus "extremely seriously."

"We must continue to work together to emerge stronger as a country during these trying times," he said. Wednesday's statement did not detail how Diaz-Balart may have contracted the disease. He was the first lawmaker to announce a positive test.

Later on Wednesday evening, McAdams, a Utah Democrat, said he too had been diagnosed.

"Today I learned that I tested positive," he said in a statement released on Twitter. "I am still working for Utahns and pursuing efforts to get Utahns the resources they need as I continue doing my job from home until I know it is safe to end my self-qurantine."

The unsettling development underscores the unique challenge facing lawmakers as they both grapple with how to contain the spread of coronavirus throughout the US and take steps to avoid spreading it within Congress.

The announcements come the same day President Donald Trump signed a coronavirus relief package that includes provisions for free testing and paid emergency leave as the death toll from the virus continues to climb and state and local governments hand down more aggressive social-distancing requirements.

As of Wednesday, more than 8,500 Americans have been infected with coronavirus, and that number changes significantly by the hour.

But news of cases within the halls of Congress could upend legislative business on the Hill, setting off a new wave of self-quarantine measures from lawmakers that may have interacted with Diaz-Balart o McAdams, who both decided to self-quarantine after participating in House votes on Friday.

Thus far, at least 14 other lawmakers have announced steps to self-quarantine or otherwise isolate themselves as a precaution after coming into contact with an infected individual.

The cases are also a realization of discussions within Congress over the inevitability of lawmakers testing positive for the disease -- something for which a number of House and Senate offices have been preparing.

US Capitol Police have been working to ensure that secure communications can continue off-site and the leaders of key congressional committees, along with law enforcement authorities and the Capitol physician's office, have informed each lawmaker's office to prepare contingency plans in case of an outbreak.

In fact, the signs the Capitol is preparing have been visible for weeks, with hand sanitizers littering virtually every corner of the building.

News of Diaz-Balart and McAdams' positive tests also comes the same day a bipartisan group of House lawmakers sent a letter to congressional leadership requesting a rule change that would allow for remote voting during the pandemic.

"While Congress is an institution with a proud history, we cannot stand on tradition if it puts lives -- and our ability to be the voice of our constituents -- at risk," the letter says.

This story has been updated with additional developments on Wednesday.

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