One-tenth of Congress had COVID-19, but cases halted soon after vaccinations

Virus spared no political party, gender, race or age bracket

Massachusetts Rep. Stephen F. Lynch was the last member to have reported testing positive for COVID-19, in January. There have been no new reported member cases in over a month. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Massachusetts Rep. Stephen F. Lynch was the last member to have reported testing positive for COVID-19, in January. There have been no new reported member cases in over a month. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 11, 2021 at 3:03pm

Roughly 1 in 10 members of Congress contracted COVID-19 in the past year since the pandemic significantly changed daily life in the United States and on Capitol Hill. 

At least 71 lawmakers had COVID-19 at some point in 2020 or 2021, based on public statements they made about testing or being presumed positive for the virus or testing positive for antibodies, according to a GovTrack database

The number could actually be higher because roughly five dozen other lawmakers quarantined after potential exposure to COVID-19, and not all reported after leaving isolation whether they had been tested and received a negative result.

The majority of the 71 member cases occurred in just three consecutive months: November (25 percent) December (13 percent) and January (24 percent). Many of the January cases are suspected to have stemmed from the Capitol insurrection that month, when lawmakers packed together in secure locations as police fought off the rioters.

COVID-19 vaccines were made available to lawmakers starting in mid-December, meaning most members who wanted to get vaccinated likely would’ve received both shots by the end of January.

Although not every member has opted to get vaccinated, the overall effort to inoculate Congress has been effective. The last member to report having tested positive was Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, D-Mass., on Jan. 29, although he had received his second dose of the vaccine by that time.

All but four of the 71 lawmakers who had COVID-19 are still in Congress. House Democrats Joe Cunningham of South Carolina and Ben McAdams of Utah and Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia had the unfortunate luck of contracting the virus and later losing reelection. The fourth, Louisiana Democrat Cedric Richmond, resigned from the House in January to join the Biden administration.

Not counted among the 71 is Luke Letlow, who won election to Louisiana’s 5th District in November but died from complications related to the virus five days before he was set to be sworn in. 

The only official member to die after contracting COVID-19 is Texas GOP Rep. Ron Wright, who was in a higher-risk category after undergoing treatment for lung cancer. Letlow’s and Wright’s widows are both running in special elections for the seats their late husbands won.

Medical expertise didn’t stop lawmakers from contracting COVID-19, as four who had it are doctors: Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Rand Paul, R-Ky.; and Reps. Neal Dunn, R-Fla., and Raul Ruiz, D-Calif.

No group spared

CQ Roll Call expanded upon GovTrack’s database for a deeper analysis into how the virus hit Congress. Much like its impact on the larger U.S. population, COVID-19 has spared no political party, gender, race or age bracket on Capitol Hill, but some groups have been more disproportionately affected than others. 

Of the aforementioned 71 lawmakers who had COVID-19, two-thirds are Republicans. Eight GOP senators and 39 House Republicans had the virus, compared to two senators and 21 House members among Democrats.

Even larger than the party gap is the gender gap. Male lawmakers contracted COVID-19 four times as much as females, as 57 men had it, compared with 14 women.

The gender disparity is not too surprising when you consider male lawmakers still outnumber female lawmakers nearly 4 to 1 when counting both chambers together. 

The virus affected members across a wide variety of age groups. The youngest member of Congress to contract COVID-19 was 33-year-old Rep. Jake LaTurner, R-Kan. 

The oldest lawmakers who recovered from the virus are 87-year-old Republicans Don Young of Alaska, the dean of the House, and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, who was Senate president pro tempore when he tested positive in November.

However, most members who had COVID-19 were in their 40s (17 percent), 50s (30 percent) and 60s (37 percent). 

Three-fourths of the lawmakers who contracted the virus are white, including all 10 senators (nine current, one former) who had it.

But like the larger population, COVID-19 had a disproportionate impact on Hispanic members. In the House, where just under 11 percent of members identify as Hispanic or Latino, they accounted for 17 percent of those who had COVID-19. 

Other racial minorities were less affected. Only 6 percent of lawmakers who had COVID-19 are Black, all four of whom are from the House where 13 percent of members are Black. One of the four is Richmond, who had COVID-19 in December, about a month before he resigned for his White House job.

Asian Americans make up 3 percent of the members who had COVID-19 and 4 percent of the House.

Ryan Kelly contributed to this report.