Nearly half of the Lee County Legislative Delegation is sick with COVID-19.
While paperwork has been scanned in, Sen. Ray Rodrigues and Reps. Mike Giallombardo and Adam Botana all were excused from swearing-in ceremonies in Tallahassee on Tuesday. Instead of attending lawmaker university in person, the freshmen in the delegation must watch videos streamed online and communicate through computer chat software as they develop critical relationships in the chamber.
“But Speaker [Chris] Sprowls has talked to us,” said Botana, a Bonita Springs Republican. “We’ll do something at a later date. You just have got to be concerned about everybody.”
Botana, who came down with a scratchy throat and tested positive for COVID-19 the weekend after the election, hoped he would be done with the coronavirus by now. He actually drove himself to Tallahassee hoping to be sworn in, but when he was administered with another test, it still came back positive. He stresses he drove to the Capitol alone and didn’t interact with people except for testing staff.
“Now I’m stuck at home and the dog and I are watching each other.
The same weekend Botana first was tested, Rodrigues went into the doctor for a routine exam and was tested as part of the medical office policy. Asymptomatic at the time, the Estero Republican also received a positive result.
Since then, his symptoms worsened and he was hospitalized a day before his Senate term officially began, though he has improved since beginning treatment.
Rodrigues had already disclosed his medical status shortly after receiving his first results. Botana and Giallombardo, on the other hand, had their medical condition revealed in a press release from the majority office.
Notably, the same release, which listed six Republican members and one Democrat who tested positive or were in close proximity to someone who had, also revealed all 78 members of the House GOP caucus had taken COVID-19 tests and most were allowed at the event. That information ultimately revealed 72 members had thus tested negative for COVID-19.
That made it easy to look at an Election Day victory party in Fort Myers and deduce which lawmakers photographed had been infected and which had tested negative. Rep. Spencer Roach, a North Fort Myers Republican, expressed some frustration after Florida Politics reported he tested negative. “The fact I even had a COVID test should not have been released to the media,” Roach said.
He spoke with Department of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz about it, and later read the text of the press release discussing which members could not attend the swearing in. Roach said he doesn’t have a huge problem knowing he and other members who tested negative were not specifically identified in the release. But he still remains frustrated information about his personal health was released by an office of the House without receiving at least a heads up.
The House Majority Office did not return calls for comment. Moskowitz referred questions to the legislative offices, but said the only lawmaker who approached him with concerns was very gracious.
Giallombardo said he’s still experiencing some symptoms. He stayed home sick this week.
The Cape Coral Republican notably worked as a National Guardsman stationed at original test sites in South Florida near the start of the pandemic. He ended up in quarantine at points but never caught the coronavirus at that time.
As for now, he said, it’s not too surprising to him so much of the county delegation got sick around the same time. In addition to going to the victory party together on Election Day, lawmakers also shared a dinner. In the run-up to the election and the preparation to take office, paths for the pols frequently crossed in the region.
“But I have no idea where I got it,” he said. “I have no clue.”
Giallombardo, for his part, said he did know the release was going out, and believes those specifically named all were told.
“It wasn’t something that was a surprise,” he said. “It’s our duty to be able to let the people know why I wasn’t at Session.”
Botana wasn’t excited about the release, but figures it’s better to be transparent than to fuel speculation. Press in the galleys on Tuesday could easily see which senators were in attendance and who was not. “You guys can put one and one together,” he said.