LOUISVILLE, Ky. – After more than a week of downplaying Sen. Rand Paul’s potential exposure to the COVID-19 coronavirus after three people at a fundraiser he attended tested positive, Paul’s office now says it was that event that prompted him to take the test that revealed he had contracted the illness.
Paul, 57, an ophthalmologist, was among the many high-profile attendees at the Speed Art Museum’s “Speed Ball” fundraiser on March 7. Others who attended the gala – philanthropist Christy Brown, Louisville first lady Alexandra Gerassimides and Kentucky Author Forum leader Mary Moss Greenebaum – eventually tested positive for COVID-19.
Other Kentucky elected officials attended the event, including Rep. John Yarmuth, Gov. Andy Beshear and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. All three are Democrats and have tested negative.
“Wishing him the best, and it’s obvious the virus is nonpartisan,” Yarmuth told The Courier Journal Sunday.
Paul’s office had avoided questions for days about whether he had been tested as a result of attending the fundraiser.
But spokeswoman Kelsey Cooper indicated Sunday that the test stemmed from Paul’s attendance at the Speed Museum event. She said, “just like several Kentucky elected officials who attended the event in question,” Paul took the test as a precaution.
However, on March 15, The Courier Journal asked whether Paul was self-isolating or taking any other steps regarding the virus after reporting that Brown and Greenebaum tested positive.
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At the time, Cooper did not address what action, if any, the senator was going to take. She emphasized in a March 15 email that Paul “didn’t interact with the known infected individual.”
After Paul tested positive, Cooper told The Courier Journal Sunday that 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.”
Cooper did not respond to follow-up questions Sunday on what changed in the past week for Paul to get tested.
The senator also sought testing for the virus, Cooper said, because he had surgery last year when a portion of his lung was removed. The surgery was the result of a 2017 assault by one of Paul’s neighbors.
“Senator Paul is in a higher risk category as it relates to pulmonary issues,” Cooper said.
Paul’s positive test prompted other senators who work alongside the Kentucky Republican to seek medical advice or testing or impose self-isolation. Republican Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, of Utah, announced Sunday they would begin to self-quarantine.
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A Democratic senator from Arizona also lashed out at Paul for his lack of precaution while awaiting his test results.
“This, America, is absolutely irresponsible,” tweeted Sen. Kristen Synema, D-Ariz. “You cannot be near other people while waiting for coronavirus test results. It endangers others & likely increases the spread of the virus.”
Paul’s office also has not responded to questions about multiple media reports that he was at the Senate gym and pool Sunday morning before getting the test results back later that morning.
His staff bristled at those reports while ignoring the core question, tweeting that he left the Senate immediately upon learning of his diagnosis.
“He had zero contact with anyone (and) went into quarantine. Insinuations such as those below that he went to the gym after learning of his results are just completely false (and) irresponsible!”
President Donald Trump opened his press briefing on Sunday by sending his regards to Paul and calling him a friend.
“This is all starting to hit close to home,” Trump said.
Paul is now the third member of Congress to test positive for COVID-19.
Last week, Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., and Ben McAdams, D-Utah, announced they had tested positive for the virus, and dozens of other lawmakers who fear they may have been exposed have undergone self-quarantines.
Paul’s revelation comes days after Kentucky’s junior senator, a deficit hawk, opposed and delayed a $100 billion stimulus package to combat COVID-19, according to congressional leadership sources.
Earlier this month, Paul also was the lone senator to oppose a bipartisan $8 billion deal to provide emergency coronavirus funding.
Paul’s tweet Sunday said the senator expects to return to work “after his quarantine period ends,” but he will continue to “work for the people of Kentucky at this difficult time.”
“Ten days ago, our D.C. office began operating remotely, hence virtually no staff has had contact with Sen. Paul,” the senator’s deputy chief of staff, Sergio Gor, said in a statement.
Follow Phillip M. Bailey on Twitter at @phillipmbailey and Sarah Ladd @ladd_sarah