West Virginia House Gov. Org. Chair Brandon Steele Tests Positive For Coronavirus
Updated Sunday, March 21, 2021 at 10:20 p.m.
The chair of the West Virginia House of Delegates House Government Organization Committee has tested positive for the coronavirus. The House announced Sunday that Del. Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, tested positive Saturday.
“I went and got tested after my wife became ill,” Stelle said by phone. “She tested positive on Saturday — and that's when I went and tested and was positive.”
Steele’s diagnosis marks the first for a lawmaker during the course of the 60-day legislative session, which began Feb. 10. Access to the Capitol during the pandemic has been limited to those on “official business,” as per an order from Gov. Jim Justice.
On Sunday, Steele likened his symptoms to that of “seasonal allergies.”
“I've not had a cough, I’ve not had a fever,” he said, noting that he was told by his physician that he also had pneumonia.
Steele said he will be quarantining at least through the end of this week. House Government Organization Vice Chair Geoff Foster, R-Putnam, will take over the top spot in the committee during that time.
“I think it’s something to say for the way the Legislature has handled this that we've made it five weeks — with 134 people from all over the state coming in and going home every weekend and coming back — that it took us five weeks to have a positive test,” Steele said.
Steele said he decided not to receive a vaccine for the coronavirus. Lawmakers were given priority to get the vaccine under Justice’s plan that cited the “continuity of government.”
“I'm for choice,” Steele said about not getting the shot. “I was in the Marines, I've had them all. I'm more for choice. It's a choice you make for you and your family. There's contraindications in my medical history to me getting the vaccine — and that's why I didn't take it.”
House Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor, also confirmed Steele’s positive test in a statement provided to the news media on Sunday afternoon. Summers offered some information on protocols in light of a member testing positive.
“We have attempted to notify anyone who had the potential of high-risk exposure to this member, which would have meant close contact for more than 15 minutes, and we also want everyone with the House of Delegates to be aware of this positive case,” Summers said.
Lawmakers in the House are required to wear masks or face coverings while 100 members gather daily for floor sessions and smaller groups meet for committee meetings. While most delegates abide by the requirement, some have been photographed wearing mesh masks or nothing at all. Some lawmakers often remove their masks to speak on the floor.
Summers said the House has verified its mitigation plan with state coronavirus czar Dr. Clay Marsh, and said Marsh has “verified appropriate measures are in place.”
“Testing with increased capability will be offered at the Capitol beginning Monday, with drive-through options available and more details about testing to be shared as soon as they are available,” Summers said.
House of Delegates spokesperson Ann Ali said leaders in the House plan to continue the legislative session without interruption despite Steele testing positive. Steele said he believed the impact of his positive test result would be minimal on lawmakers and the legislative process.
“I haven't been in touch with very many senators, anyhow. So I think the impact is very limited over there — to none,” Steele said. “At least on the House side, every delegate was notified on Saturday night by our leadership. We got messages out to all staff that I came into contact with.”
Del. Josh Higginbotham, R-Putnam, said he would be quarantining due to having close interactions with Steele. And at least one lawmaker from across the rotunda — Sen. Patrick Martin, R-Lewis — announced Sunday he would be voluntarily quarantining due to contact with Steele on Thursday.
Rules in the West Virginia Senate allow for lawmakers to vote by proxy, which means a senator can vote through a designee. No such rule exists in the House of Delegates.