It’s been just a matter of days since Rep. Kelly Armstrong got his COVID diagnosis. He’s already pacing a trail into his tile floor, he joked on Monday, during a phone call from his home in North Dakota, where he’s working the phones and legislating from a spare bedroom with an adjoining bath. His family leaves his food outside his door.
“It’s a western North Dakota hunting term — I’m fairly certain I’ll know quickly why a coyote chews their leg off to get out of a hunting trap,” Armstrong, R-N.D., joked.
Armstrong says he flew home from Washington on Friday and started feeling “achy.” Saturday, he got a positive test, launching a period of isolation that will keep him cooped up until Oct. 4. In the meantime, he’ll be casting votes by proxy.
This is Congress in the age of COVID.
It’s not clear exactly how Armstrong contracted the virus, but he says he almost certainly caught it in Washington, where, he said, everyone is doing their part to help slow the spread but where precautions can only go so far in a crowded city.
Armstrong has been vaccinated against COVID, and he said his symptoms were at their worst like “a medium flu.” He said that by Monday morning he’d begun feeling significantly better, and he’s glad that he’s been immunized.
“I’m not a doctor, but my nurse practitioner said I’m very lucky that I was vaccinated,” he said, recalling the high rate of hospitalized COVID patients who are not vaccinated.
Armstrong’s diagnosis spotlights the ongoing danger of the virus and the potential danger it poses to American leaders. Though medical experts say COVID vaccinations dramatically reduce that danger, the shots are not said to make one fully and totally immune.
That raises questions for the safety of other leaders in Washington, for whom COVID is a constant background hum to the daily necessities of government. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., is vaccinated; his colleague Sen. Kevin Cramer, also a Republican, has not publicly confirmed his vaccination status (though he was scheduled for a dose in March).
The Herald emailed questions about the senators’ safety practices — on masking, distancing and COVID testing — to both leaders’ offices. A spokesperson for Hoeven said he follows medical recommendations, is vaccinated and is tested “when recommended” and that he has never tested positive for the virus. Cramer’s office did not respond prior to the deadline for this report.
As the pandemic has worn on, the vaccines themselves have become deeply politically contentious, with a portion of the country steadfastly refusing to seek immunization, as well as bucking calls for mask-wearing in public. Cramer, along with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, recently introduced bills curbing mask and COVID vaccine mandates.
"I'm happy I took the vaccine,” Armstrong said. “I still contend that anybody that has any hesitancy at all should talk to their doctor. These are not political decisions, these are medical decisions, and those types of decisions should be made between (you and) your health care provider.”