Mike Lee Tested Positive for Coronavirus 10 Days Ago. Why Was He Not Wearing a Mask at Today’s Supreme Court Confirmation Hearing?

Mike Lee Tested Positive for Coronavirus 10 Days Ago. Why Was He Not Wearing a Mask at Today’s Supreme Court Confirmation Hearing?

As the Senate Judiciary Committee began its hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett today, all attention was initially focused on Barrett, the Circuit Court of Appeals judge picked by President Trump to fill the vacancy created by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg last month.

But shortly after the hearings began, it wasn’t Barrett who grabbed the first day’s headlines. Instead, it was one of the panelists on the Judiciary Committee: Utah senator Mike Lee.

It was not what the Republican senator said or didn’t say that caused him to be something of a narrative flash point on Monday. Instead, it was what he chose not to wear as he made his 10-minute opening statement: a mask. 

That’s because less than two weeks ago, Lee tested positive for coronavirus shortly after he attended the Rose Garden ceremony where President Trump announced his nomination of Barrett to the Supreme Court. The ceremony has since been identified as a super-spreader event, with nearly a dozen attendees, including Lee and his fellow Judiciary Committee member Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, later testing positive. 

Lee said he began experiencing symptoms similar to allergies on October 1 and was subsequently tested for the coronavirus. On October 2, he announced that he had tested positive and that he would enter 10 days of quarantine. That quarantine period officially ended today, but critics on social media were quick to call him out for appearing in person at today’s hearings, especially when several other senators, including Ted Cruz, Kamala Harris, and, most significantly, Tillis, chose to attend virtually.

In a letter released by Lee’s office, Brian Monahan, the congressional physician, wrote that Lee had “met criteria to end COVID-19 isolation for those with mild to moderate disease.”

“Specifically, it has been greater than 10 days since symptom onset, you have had no fever in absence of fever-reducing medication for at least 24 hours, and your other symptoms have improved,” Monahan wrote. “The CDC does not recommend repeat SARS-CoV-2 PCR testing if these criteria are met.”

And shortly after the hearing began Monday, Lee told a local Utah radio station that he “felt great,” according to The Salt Lake Tribune. “Good as new, ready to go, and am excited for today’s hearing,” he said. (Lee did place his blue surgical mask back on when his time to speak was over.)

The CDC recommends that people who have tested positive for COVID-19 isolate for at least 10 days and perhaps longer if they still have symptoms.