“Out of the blue … all hell broke loose”: Mario Diaz-Balart on his COVID-19 recovery

Political Theater, Episode 123

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., was the first member of Congress to disclose he had COVID-19. He talks to Political Theater about how it all went down. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., was the first member of Congress to disclose he had COVID-19. He talks to Political Theater about how it all went down. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Jason Dick
Posted April 22, 2020 at 3:49pm

“That’s a distinction I would have given up any day, right?” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart says. Most people love to come in first, but in this case, the Florida Republican was referring to being the first member of Congress to disclose he had the coronavirus.

When Diaz-Balart announced he would be self-quarantining after testing positive, it made the pandemic a little less abstract for his colleagues and those who work in Congress, cover it or seek to influence it. The gregarious nine-term lawmaker is popular and widely respected, and the thought of him battling the illness, along with other well-known figures, put a familiar face to the pandemic.

On the latest Political Theater podcast, Diaz-Balart discusses what it was like those first few days in March. Before testing positive, he had already decided to self-quarantine in D.C. to minimize the exposure to his wife, who was back home in South Florida. He went shopping to stock up his apartment in Washington. And then, “out of the blue,” he says, “all hell broke loose.”

The familiar symptoms — headache, fever, chills, cough — all sprang on him. After a trip to the Office of the Attending Physician in the Capitol, he tested positive for the coronavirus and knew he’d be in for a potentially rough ride.

Diaz-Balart also talks about some of the “silver linings” along the way, particularly a few neighbors whom he had never really met who offered to help out however they could.

“The life in D.C. is crazy, right?” he says. “All of a sudden, I got a postcard slipped under my door from the two neighbors underneath, who, again, I didn’t know, saying, ‘Hey, we understand you’re sick. Let us know if you need anything; here are phone numbers. Don’t worry if you have to go someplace, we will disinfect.’ And they were a lifesaver.”

Through it all, he kept working. He says he’s real lucky: He didn’t have to go to the hospital, didn’t have shortness of breath, mostly treated it with Tylenol, and was able to continue with congressional duties like conference calls with colleagues and conferring with administration officials.

As a longtime appropriator, Diaz-Balart is used to seeing how money and policy affect people and institutions. And now he adds his own unique experience to addressing the pandemic: not just as his district’s representative but as someone who survived the coronavirus himself.