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Texas House representative tests positive for COVID-19 after he was on House floor

Fort Worth Star-Telegram logoFort Worth Star-Telegram 1/15/2021 Eleanor Dearman, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Jan. 15—A member of the Texas House of Representatives has tested positive for COVID-19 after being on the floor for the starting days of the legislative session.

State Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, told the Texas Tribune he received a positive COVID-19 test on Thursday. The representative said he got the rapid test outside the capitol as he was returning home Thursday, after the House adjourned until Jan. 26. He is quarantining and experiencing minor symptoms.

Members returned to Austin on Tuesday to convene the 87th Texas Legislative Session.

"I don't know where it came from," Deshotel told the Texas Tribune, noting the last time he was tested was Monday. "It rather shocked me when the guy told me."

The Star-Telegram has left requests for comment at Deshotel's offices.

North Texas Rep. Michelle Beckley, a Carrollton Democrat whose desk neighbor's Deshotel's, said she is quarantining in a statement that did not name Deshotel. Beckley said she'd also be getting tested to determine whether she has COVID-19.

Beckley, who did not attend opening day Tuesday because of concerns about the virus' spread, was on the floor Wednesday and Thursday to vote on the chamber's housekeeping resolution and rules.

"I sat there for multiple hours, sitting only three feet apart from other members, which is not in accordance with social distancing guidance," Beckley said. "My fears returning to the House Chamber and reasons for not attending Opening Day are being realized right now."

State Rep. Erin Zwiener, whose desk also neighbor's Deshotel's said she will also be self-quarantining. On Twitter, she said she's thankful Deshotel quickly informed colleagues and "set a tone of transparency."

"There's 0 shame in a COVID-19 diagnosis," Zwiener, D-Driftwood, said. "Cases are high across the state, so having cases on the House floor was almost inevitable. We can take care of each other by following masking guidelines and quickly informing our colleagues if they've been exposed."

The House's rules adopted Thursday do not require testing for lawmakers or members of the public. Representatives can set their own protocols for their individual offices. Masks are required on the floor, unless speaking at a microphone.

In addition to requiring masks on the floor — except when at one's desk or a microphone — senators must test negative for the coronavirus before the enter the floor or attend a committee hearing. A negative COVID-19 test is also required for members of the public watching proceedings.

Testing on the first day of the session, a ceremonial day when lawmakers are sworn in and can invite guests, was "heavily recommended" but not required, said State Rep. Charlie Geren, a Fort Worth Republican who sent members a Dec. 14 memo outlining the day's operational plan. Geren did not comment on his colleague testing positive for the virus.

House Speaker Dade Phelan on Friday sent a memo subject-lined "House Protocols Following Exposure to COVID-19" to representatives.

The memos instructs members who test positive for the virus to isolate immediately and reach out to those they've had contact with.

Individuals who are exposed to the virus and not getting regular testing during quarantine can stop quarantining after 10 days if they show no symptoms, the memo states. Those who are being tested frequently with negative results can end quarantine after a week.

Testing is available to members at a state office building next to the Capitol, as well as in tents outside the Capitol.

Phelan and his family are sending Deshotel prayers and encouragement for a speedy recovery, said Enrique Marquez, a spokesman for Phelan.

"Members have been repeatedly encouraged to use the testing resources available to them and their staffs," Marquez said in a statement. "Testing for COVID-19 is left to the discretion of each House Member. ... Our office has and will continue to emphasize the importance of Members and staff informing anyone with whom they have been in close contact of their results if they test positive."


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