Sen. Rand Paul insisted Monday that more Americans should be able to get tested for the novel coronavirus even if they are asymptomatic after he faced criticism for being tested for COVID-19 despite not having symptoms and for continuing on with his daily life while awaiting the results.
In a lengthy statement, Paul, R-Ky., said that he was tested because he and his wife traveled extensively in the weeks prior to the widespread societal shutdown and that he was at higher risk for complications because he had part of his lung removed after he was attacked by a Kentucky neighbor in 2017.
"I believe we need more testing immediately, even among those without symptoms," Paul said. "The nature of COVID-19 put me — and us all — in a Catch-22 situation. I didn’t fit the criteria for testing or quarantine. I had no symptoms and no specific encounter with a COVID-19 positive person. I had, however, traveled extensively in the U.S. and was required to continue doing so to vote in the Senate. That, together with the fact that I have a compromised lung, led me to seek testing. Despite my positive test result, I remain asymptomatic for COVID-19."
Paul said he took the test upon arriving in Washington, D.C., last week and "felt that it was highly unlikely that I was positive since I have had no symptoms of the illness, nor have I had contact with anyone who has either tested positive for the virus or been sick."
Paul addressed his attendance at a fundraiser in Kentucky earlier this month, where two individuals in attendance later announced they had tested positive for the virus, saying he had "zero contact or proximity with either of" them.
On Sunday, Paul became the first senator known to have tested positive for the virus, with his account tweeting that he was "feeling fine and is in quarantine." Paul's chief of staff later said the senator "decided to get tested after attending an event where two individuals subsequently tested positive for COVID-19, even though he wasn't aware of any direct contact with either one of them."
Meanwhile, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., told colleagues at Sunday's policy meeting that he saw Paul at the Senate gym earlier in the day, his communications director confirmed on Twitter. Paul's account later tweeted that he had visited the gym before he received the results of the test.
Still, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., criticized Paul for going to the Senate gym, tweeting that it was absolutely irresponsible."
"You cannot be near other people while waiting for coronavirus test results," she wrote. "It endangers others & likely increases the spread of the virus."
In his statement Monday, Paul wrote: "For those who want to criticize me for lack of quarantine, realize that if the rules on testing had been followed to a T, I would never have been tested and would still be walking around the halls of the Capitol."
"The current guidelines would not have called for me to get tested nor quarantined," he said. "It was my extra precaution, out of concern for my damaged lung, that led me to get tested."
Paul did not directly address his visit to the gym, however.
"Perhaps it is too much to ask that we simply have compassion for our fellow Americans who are sick or fearful of becoming so. Thousands of people want testing. Many, like David Newman of The Walking Dead, are sick with flu symptoms and are being denied testing. This makes no sense," the senator wrote, apparently referring to actor Daniel Newman.
"The broader the testing and the less finger-pointing we have, the better," he continued. "America is strong. We are a resilient people, but we’re stronger when we stand together."
Paul's diagnosis triggered a discussion about whether senators, many of whom are in older age brackets, should go home immediately or self-quarantine, given their likely contact with Paul, who was on the Senate floor extensively over the past week. It also put the passage of key congressional bills in question moving forward as Democrats and Republicans struggle to reach a deal on the stimulus package.
Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, both Utah Republicans, announced they would be self-quarantining for two weeks after having had "extended" interactions with Paul and would have to miss floor votes.
Paul was the third member of Congress to announce a positive test for the coronavirus, following Reps.Mario Díaz-Balart, R-Fla., and Ben McAdams, D-Utah.