June 1, 2020
I recently posted about my brush with contact tracing and self-quarantining on my personal Facebook page. Although I gave a lot of specifics regarding the nature of a "contact" and the timeline of events, it is amazing to me how people either choose to ignore the details or simply react based on their emotions and misunderstanding.
So once more, here are the facts: On May 21st at 5:09 pm I received an email from the House Republican HR department, which notified me that on May 14th I was in contact with someone who later tested positive for COVID-19. I was advised to monitor myself for symptoms and it was recommended, but not required, that I self-quarantine until 14 days had passed since that contact.
It seemed pretty simple to me, so I commenced to immediately self-quarantine. I also took stock of where I had been and who I might have been in contact with between May 14th and May 21st, just in case I got sick and would in turn participate in a contact tracing exercise of my own.
I didn't get sick. I wasn't even worried about getting sick. To me the entire exercise was a "just in case" proposition. It wasn't stated with any certainty that the individual I had contact with on the 14th actually was carrying COVID-19 on the 14th. And self-quarantining was not required; it was merely a recommendation.
In the ensuing days, I have become absolutely amazed at how eager many people, friend and foe alike, have second guessed the very simple decisions I made about the situation I found myself in. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, as the dreadfully obtuse policy decisions made by the Governor and the Secretary of Health, along with equally dreadful media coverage, have forced most Pennsylvanians to use their imaginations and emotions to drive their personal COVID response bus.
To unspin those presumptions and get the bus back on the road, I'll make an effort here to answer the most frequently offered questions/complaints/attacks. Q: Did you get tested?
A: No. My doctor advised me that there was no need to get tested if I had no symptoms. He also doubted if I could get tested without symptoms. He's been my doctor for 30 years, and is well-known across Lebanon County. In addition, I have probably spoken with him more during this COVID business than I have over the last ten years combined. I trust his advice.
Q: Why didn't you tell anyone right away?
A: I told the one person who needed to know, because we live in the same house.
Q: Why didn't you tell other members of the House of Representatives?
A: Because if they needed to know, they would have been informed just like I was informed. Only one other House member received the same notification I did. Besides, I was not informed who the individual was that tested positive. In a workplace, providing that information to me would have been a violation of law. I know who it is now, but had I told other House members I was self-quarantining, it would've triggered a rumor mill aimed at discovering their identity, which would run counter to the laws that require such personal information to remain confidential in the workplace.
Q: But there are 203 House members, and you're all in session together; didn't they all deserve to be notified?
A: No. First of all, you need to know what a traceable contact actually is. It is NOT merely walking past someone, or holding a door for them, or even using the next urinal over. According to my notification, "Under the revised guidance that the CDC issued on May 19, 2020 for workplaces, a person may have exposure to the virus if they were within 6 feet of an infected individual for 15 minutes or more or if they were in the same room of an infected individual for a prolonged period of 30 minutes or more. This is referred to as 'contact.'" As such, the only two people who qualified as having "contact" were in fact notified.
Further, that only three individuals total were impacted makes perfect sense if you understand where the three of us sit on the House floor. Although we're all Republicans, we sit on the left side of the center aisle, where the Democrats are usually seated. Most Democrat members, throughout this COVID business, have selected to vote by designation (proxy) instead of coming to the Capitol in person. We adopted temporary rules so every member could have that option. Because of this, the three of us, along with a fourth Republican member who was voting by designation on May 14th due to surgery, have been sort of on an island over there for the last 11 weeks.
There were no committee meetings held on May 14th, so the House floor was the only location where "contact" could have occurred.
Q: But you were also all in session before May 14th. What about those days?
A: Contact tracing only begins with individuals an infected person had "contact" with during the 48 hours prior to experiencing symptoms. The infected individual first experienced symptoms on May 16th, so May 14th is the earliest contact which would be traced.
Q: You were notified on May 21st; why didn't you self-quarantine for a full 14 days?
A: Self-quarantining is intended to isolate a person with "contact" for 14 days, the presumed incubation period of the virus. That 14-day clock starts ticking at "contact," not upon notification. Since my last opportunity for "contact" was on May 14th when the House adjourned at 4:51 pm, my self-quarantine ended at 4:51 pm on May 28th. Out of an abundance of caution and for other reasons, I did not appear on the House floor even to offer remarks or vote on my resolution to terminate the disaster emergency, which occurred around 10:40 pm on May 28th. I voted remotely and House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler read my remarks into the record.
Q: You were reported to be at several different places and in contact with a lot of people between May 14th and May 21st. Why weren't you quarantining?
A: I am a real person with a life. I shop, go to the post office, and sometimes speak at political events. Anyone who finds themselves involved in such contact tracing will experience a gap between "contact" and notification. Mr. Peabody and Sherman are not real, and we cannot just flip a couple switches and turn a few dials on the Wayback Machine to undo what has already transpired. Quarantine can only begin upon notification.
Q: Why didn't you notify everyone you were in contact with during the seven days between May 14th and May 21st?
A: While I absolutely retraced all my steps to account for every place I had been during this time, there is no CDC or DoH protocol that recommends notifying second-generation contacts of "contacts," until such time I myself came down with symptoms, which in turn would make them first-generation "contacts." I did not experience any symptoms at any time, but I was prepared to identify those "contacts" if necessary. It never became neceassry.
Q: But you're a state representative, don't you have a duty to hold yourself to a higher standard of transparency? Weren't you morally obligated to make an announcement?
A: Absolutely not. The COVID situation, thanks to obtuse public policy and utterly dreadful media coverage that feeds the worst of human emotions, has created an atmosphere of fear and paranoia about the virus. People are not responding rationally. Rather, they are responding based on emotion and (mostly) errant presumption. As such, we need to consider the impact of unnecessary notifications.
Regarding all my colleagues in Harrisburg, the duty to notify in the workplace falls upon the employer (in this case, our HR department) and all individuals impacted were in fact notified. From there, it is my understanding that the Department of Health may also get involved, but apparently only with the infected individual, as they did not contact me at any time. Had I announced to my colleagues that I was under self-quarantine, it would have launched a modern-day witch hunt to identify the infected individual.
Some opine that the infected individual should have made an announcement of his own. I respectfully and wholeheartedly disagree. We do not issue Scarlet Letters for health conditions in America. In fact, we go to great lengths to protect privacy on medical matters under the law. I was stunned that some of my colleagues, after they did learn of the situation, unnecessarily wasted limited resources by getting tested themselves or self-quarantining (or claiming to do so) without just cause. They either are not familiar with CDC & DoH protocols, or are purposefully ignoring them for other reasons. I will leave you to speculate as to which it was, and if the latter, as to why.
Regarding the second-generation contacts of "contacts" during the week that elapsed between when I was allegedly in "contact" with an infected individual and when I was notified of said "contact," you really need to do the math on that in your head. What would those individuals do if I had notified them? Would they have unnecessarily gone out to get tested? Would they have self-quarantined themselves? Would they have made similar notifications of their own, causing similar actions by yet another generation of individuals?
I believe in the midst of the current overall state of fear and paranoia, all of these things would have happened, and if such reactions were to be spread across society as a whole, we would very quickly end up with depleted testing capabilities for those who need it, and perpetual quarantine for just about everyone except the lone hermit who lives in the mountains.
As such, my morals and sense of duty as an elected servant demanded that I avoid any further unnecessary fear and panic. I equate any notification beyond what I actually made to be somewhat on par with yelling FIRE! in a crowded movie theater. Disagree with me if you like, but I refuse to add hype to a topic which is already far too overhyped.
Beyond this scenario of unnecessary notifications, imagine how it would be compounded and made even worse with mistaken or intentionally false notifications. Further, imagine that happening with a government agency practicing the responsiveness of the PA Department of Labor and Industry regarding unemployment claims. There actually was a mistaken notification issued in relation to the infected person I was in "contact" with, but fortunately it was corrected rather quickly. I cannot speak to these issues without addressing the dreadful and underhanded actions of Rep. Brian Sims. His reaction to this whole situation has cemented him in my mind as a vile and vulgar Pied Piper leading a hoard of uninformed but sympathetic rats to drown in a river of deceit and innuendo.
Upon learning the fact that I was self-quarantining due to "contact" with an individual who later tested positive for COVID-19, Rep. Sims recorded a profanity-laced video in which he called me out by name several times. That video was picked up by national and international news outlets, not because it cited facts, but because of the faux outrage and profanity exhibited by Rep. Sims. I'm sure you can locate that video for yourself; I will not link to it here.
In my humble opinion, Rep. Sims targeted me more than any other individual in that video for a very specific reason: he holds a grudge. To understand his grudge we need to go back a little further in time (Mr. Peabody to the rescue) and recall a few other events.
You may recall that Rep Sims gained some notoriety a while back for two other vulgar and viral videos in which he berated a woman, and then essentially "doxxed" two teenage girls who were praying outside of Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia. Those videos are floating around out there and easily located as well, so I will not link to them here either.
In my opinion, Rep. Sims violated the constitutional rights of those three individuals, with premeditation and intent to cause them harm. Because he is a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, that reflects on all members of the House of Representatives. As such, I signed on as a cosponsor to HR387, to censure him.
That didn't sit so well with Rep. Sims I suppose, and when I first introduced HR836, my resolution to terminate the COVID disaster emergency, he unleashed a tirade of online hatred against me for his audience of uninformed but sympathetic followers. They dug deep into internet archives to regurgitate every possible unsubstantiated claim made against me by political opponents in the past. They peppered my social media with hateful messages and accusations, and essentially created a denial of service attack for my own constituents.
I was caught a bit off guard by it all, because I simply did not put 2+2 together. I certainly understood why Rep. Sims would oppose my resolution, as he and the Governor share the same political affiliation, but I didn't quite understand why he turned it into a personal attack.
Not wanting to sort it out by trying to communicate with Rep. Sims and his pack of uninformed but sympathetic followers in public on social media, I decided to email him instead to find out why he made it so personal. I invite you to read that series of emails for yourself. [PDF]
Now fast forward to the day before my termination resolution was scheduled to be voted in the House of Representatives, and the video Rep. Sims made after finding out I was in self-quarantine. In my humble opinion, he did not care about the veracity or substance of what he stated in the video. Instead, he invoked my name several times in that video to whip up more fear and paranoia about COVID-19, to exact some measure of revenge on me, and to once again lead his uninformed but sympathetic followers to drown in his river of deceit and innuendo.
It worked even better for him this time. He got massive coverage by the national media, and I found myself on the business end of an even wider denial of service attack for my own constituents. He got another 15 minutes of fame and his uninformed but sympathetic followers enjoyed a great outpouring of hatred towards me.
I've been called a criminal, a murderer, and a serial killer. I've been accused of intentionally trying to harm others. They've accused me of lying, covering it up, and have demanded my resignation. My official social media account and inbox were so polluted by attacks from other states and even other countries that I was not able to effectively communicate with my own constituents. They subjected the 102nd District's office staff to profanity-laced tirades matched only by the vulgarity and hatred of their own Pied Piper.
So congratulations, Rep. Sims; you got the attention you wanted and your uninformed pack is now drowning in your river of deceit and misinformation. But it shall not deter me from standing up for the inherent rights of every Pennsylvanian. My termination resolution passed the House 117-85 even without me showing up in person to speak to its merits on the floor of the House. I stayed away not because I was self-quarantining, but because I did not want you to use my presence to erect another tent in the circus atmosphere you prefer over serious deliberation on legislative matters.
I wonder though, when will Rep. Sims reveal that the Secretary of Health participated in the Democrat caucus the night of his latest video tirade to advise them of the prudence of the handling of the whole contact tracing incident he pretends to be so upset about? Will he post the various news stories confirming that it was all done according to existing protocols established by the CDC and the PA Department of Health? Will he admit that he, or anyone else in the House, were not ever actually in any danger? I believe he won't. He won't because he is self-important, vile, and vulgar. He cares about attention and vindictiveness more than the truth.
I also wonder how Rep. Sims justifies his feigned outrage at his ginned-up possibility of being in danger when he should already have known he was not, while defending the killing of tens of thousands by abortion at Planned Parenthood, and also while not uttering a peep of concern about the horrendous policies of the Secretary of Health regarding Pennsylvania's long term care facilities, where nearly 70 percent of the state's COVID-related deaths have occurred.
Pied Pipers don't care about facts, they care about how many uninformed but sympathetic rats they can lead to drown in their river of their selfishness and hatred. Here are the most important facts: Actions taken by the infected individual, the House Republican HR department, and by those who were notified they had "contact" with the infected individual, worked exactly the way they were supposed to. We followed all CDC & DoH protocols, and we did not cause additional fear and paranoia.
We stopped COVID-19 in its tracks in the House of Representatives. More importantly, we provided evidence that people can work and life can resume in Pennsylvania, even with a virus in our midst.