Blazer at the ready, Davids reflects on life in quarantine
Even before Rep. Sharice Davids quarantined herself in her Overland Park home for possible COVID-19 exposure, she had largely switched her congressional office from physical to digital.
And, like many of her constituents in Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District, she’s trying in her own way to settle in as COVID-19 rages across the planet.
“Don’t worry. I’ve got my blazer here for my official calls and that sort of thing,” she said in a video posted to Twitter last week, picking up the jacket slung over her desk chair. “Like a lot of people, I’m not quite set up yet to be working from home, but that’s what we’re doing. Everybody on my team is working from home.”
The space where she does the people’s business with a laptop has its own collection of random items: a pair of safety glasses, a Kansas City Kansas Community College pennant, a folder with a cover photo of two golden retriever puppies she uses for documents.
“Don’t ask me how I got it,” she said.
In an interview on Friday, a day after she announced her self-quarantine, Davids joked about the box of Lucky Charms in her cabinet, her comfort food of choice to take the edge from mental and emotional strain of isolation.
“It’s not just me, but a lot of us have seen our entire lives—it’s different whether people are working virtually, whether people are in quarantine— there’s an aspect that’s disruptive,” she said.
The Kansas Democrat ordered her district and Washington office staff to begin working from home last week. Life in Congress can be a 24-7 proposition in normal times. An elected official sheltered in place can be even busier.
“Sometimes I feel like we’re having more meetings and maybe that’s because we don’t have to walk anywhere or drive anywhere. We’re doing everything virtually,” she said.
Her office has set up a web page (https://davids.house.gov/ coronavirus) to steer constituents toward public health information.
In the meantime, she said she’s trying to set an example for those struggling to cope. She posted a second video when she announced her decision to self-quarantine, encouraging people to stay safe at home. Davids will remain quarantined until March 26.
She said she’s sent Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, a message of support following his diagnosis with the virus.
McAdams is one of two House members, along with Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, to test positive, news which prompted dozens of lawmakers to self-quarantine.
Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, announced Sunday that he had also tested positive. Paul was asymptomatic but was tested “out of an abundance of caution due to his extensive travel and events,” according to an announcement on Twitter. He said he was unaware of direct contact with an infected person.
The situation raises questions about the safety of Congress continuing to meet during the outbreak.
Davids said it’s time to consider alternative ways of meeting and even voting. The 435-member House and 100-member Senate don’t come close to complying with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s warning against gatherings larger than ten.
“We need to be following the direction of our public health professionals and the CDC,” Davids said. “This is part of the reason I’m self-quarantining… These are things we need to do make sure everybody is safe.”
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, the Senate Rules Chairman, said Thursday that neither the House nor Senate would begin casting votes remotely.
“Not going to happen. The speaker doesn’t want to do it. The leader doesn’t want to do it. We are going to continue to vote in person,” Blunt said.
Davids, however, said the topic should be up for discussion.
“I do think the leadership right off the bat—I think you’re right—it was more of a cold reception. But my understanding is it’s an ongoing discussion,” she said. “The door is definitely not closed on that.”
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Missouri, a member of House committee tasked with modernizing Congress, said current rules require lawmakers to vote in person but a variety of options—from voting in small groups or even voting remotely—are on the table.
“Everybody agreed that it’s a problem,” Cleaver said. “There’s a lot of hesitation on the part of members to get on airplanes, fly back to Washington and sit in a room with 435 people.”
About one-third of House members and almost half of senators are over the age of 60, which puts them at high risk if they contract coronavirus.
Davids said as she works from home she’s been meeting via teleconference with public health officials and providers in Johnson and Wyandotte Counties dealing with the spread of the disease and coordinating with other policymakers from the region.
Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kan., has largely switched her congressional office from physical to digital.