- Associated Press - Friday, January 15, 2021

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - A Texas House member who rejoined more than 100 lawmakers at the state Capitol said Friday he has tested positive for COVID-19, finding out shortly after they passed rules that do not require testing for themselves as they begin a new legislative session.

Word of the result put at least one other Texas lawmaker into self-quarantine, who said her fears of returning to the Capitol were becoming realized even as the state is setting records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and newly reported deaths.

State Rep. Joe Deshotel, a Democrat, said the result came from a rapid testing tent outside the Capitol. He said he did not know where he might have become infected and had no obvious symptoms, saying he only chose to take the test because it was convenient and that he tries to test weekly.

“We had a number of people together,” said Deshotel, referring to the House chamber. “There are probably other members who, if we tested everybody, they would probably test positive.”

He is the first lawmaker to reveal a positive test since the Legislature reconvened Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Deshotel spoke at the font mic maskless while introducing the family of the newly chosen Texas House speaker, Republican Dade Phelan.

Cases in Texas are soaring like at no other time since the pandemic began. With the addition of more than 26,000 new cases Friday, Texas had more than 2 million cases since the pandemic began, almost 373,000 active cases estimated, and almost 14,000 COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals. With the addition of 400 new fatalities Friday, the state’s death toll topped 31,000. In the past three days alone, the state has reported more than 1,200 deaths.

Before Deshotel left the Capitol on Thursday, the House passed rules requiring members in the chamber to wear masks. But unlike the Senate, which is also requiring members to take COVID-19 tests before coming to the floor, the House opted against such a mandate. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans.

State Rep. Michelle Beckley was one of at least two Democrats who skipped Tuesday’s opening ceremonies, calling it a potential “superspreader” event. She was at the Capitol on Wednesday and Thursday and said she would now quarantine for 10 days.

“My fears returning the House chamber and for not attending Opening Day are being realized right now,” she said in a statement.

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