Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) decided not to wear a protective mask when he returned to the Senate for work this week, claiming that he has immunity from COVID-19 after getting infected with it in late March and recovering.
“I have immunity. I’ve already had the virus, so I can’t get it again,” Paul said when asked by reporters why he wasn’t wearing a mask as suggested by federal guidelines. “And I can’t give it to anybody.”
He added: “So of all the people you’ll meet here, I’m about the only safe person in Washington.”
Paul was the first known senator to have contracted the virus. On March 22, his office announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and had placed himself in quarantine.
Paul was asymptomatic and had tested “out of an abundance of caution,” his office reported at the time.
The senator’s lack of a mask drew criticism from people who accused Paul of putting his colleagues and others in Washington at risk of being infected.
Dr. Megan L. Ranney, an emergency physician and professor at Brown University, told HuffPost that medical researchers do not know when people become non-infectious to others. Ranney also pointed out that some health care workers are required to test negative for the virus twice before being allowed to return to work.
Ranney also said that Paul should be setting a better example for his constituents by wearing a mask either way.
“Regardless of whether he has been infected or not, he is a political leader, and his constituents look to him for guidance. He owes it to all of us to model best public health practice ― in other words, to wear a mask in public,” Ranney said in an email.
“Additionally, at this point, we don’t yet know at what point people become non-infectious. Many health care workers are being required to have 2 negative nasopharyngeal swabs prior to going back to work.”
Many others also pointed out that his claim of immunity has not yet been proved.
Researchers are still trying to understand how exactly the deadly virus spreads from person to person. And though initial studies have shown that some people who have recovered from COVID-19 are unlikely to get reinfected, there is no definitive proof that they are immune or how long immunity would last.
In late April, the World Health Organization warned against taking action or enacting policy on the theory that those who have already been infected by the virus are now immune to it because that is still unproven.
“There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection,” the organization said in a statement on Apri 24.
Ranney also emphasized that antibody tests were “unreliable, and the value of antibodies is still under debate.”
When asked about the criticism of Paul’s lack of a mask, the senator’s office directed HuffPost to his tweets posted later Tuesday in which Paul said that “modern science disagrees” with his critics.
Paul also partially quoted Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, who said: “We know with infections like this, that at least for a reasonable period, you’re gonna have antibodies that are protective.”
However, Fauci also said at a later date in April that it “has not been proven” that infected coronavirus patients have immunity.
“There’s an assumption — a reasonable assumption — that when you have an antibody that you are protected against reinfection, but that has not been proven for this particular virus. It’s true for other viruses,” he told ABC News on April 24.
Fauci has also said that many of the antibody tests that companies are making to tell whether people have immunity for the virus still need to be “validated and calibrated.”
This isn’t the first time Paul is being accused of being careless when it comes to potentially spreading COVID-19.
On the same day that Paul had tested positive for the virus, he had gone to the gym with three other Republican senators instead of isolating himself at home. The Washington Post reported that he had even used the Senate’s pool after he was tested.
At that time, Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) criticized Paul for failing to quarantine himself after testing positive.
Sinema called it “absolutely irresponsible,” adding that his behavior was endangering others.
McSally agreed, suggesting that senators needed to “model appropriate coronavirus behavior.”
“No one is too important to disregard guidance to self-quarantine pending test results,” McSally said.
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