Funny how fast attitudes can change when it's you.

Graham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate

The coronavirus officially returned to the United States Senate on Monday.

News that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tested positive quickly jolted through the Capitol and sparked an hours-long scramble to figure out who else might have been exposed, which only escalated after sources confirmed that the South Carolina Republican attended an outdoor event on Sen. Joe Manchin's (D-W.Va.) houseboat over the weekend with other senators.

Graham's "breakthrough" case, the first known instance among senators, comes as the chamber has largely loosened social distancing restrictions in recent months, with at least 96 of the 100 senators vaccinated. Though the Capitol physician has recommended mask wearing regardless of vaccination status, most Republicans have not been wearing them, and even some Democrats would remove them while hobnobbing on the floor with their colleagues.

It also comes as the Senate is embarking on a tense slog of legislating: It is currently debating a bipartisan bill, which Graham has been helping advance, before Democrats turn to a budget resolution and then leave for a weeks-long break.

"Y'all OK? Nobody's sick?" a masked GOP Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.) asked reporters as senators came to the Capitol for the first vote after news of Graham's positive test result.

Asked why he decided to wear a mask, Shelby said, "Why do you think? I'd like to stay healthy. ... I was in the room the other day with Lindsey when we were meeting with [Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)]. So you don't know."

Though the Senate didn't vote this weekend, Graham was in the Capitol on Monday and briefly spoke with reporters. In a move that didn't go unnoticed, the normally chatty GOP senator appeared to be in a hurry and was wearing a mask - an unusual move for the largely maskless Senate GOP caucus.

"I'll talk to y'all later," he told reporters as they tried to push for details on potential changes to the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Nearly an hour later, his office released a statement announcing that Graham had tested positive for the coronavirus.

"I started having flu-like symptoms Saturday night and went to the doctor this morning. I feel like I have a sinus infection and at present time I have mild symptoms. I will be quarantining for ten days," he said.

Experts say infections in people who are vaccinated, known as breakthrough cases, are rare and usually result in only mild symptoms.

An analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that less than 1 percent of fully vaccinated people got a breakthrough case in every state reporting data. The highest rate of hospitalization among vaccinated people was just 0.06 percent, in Arkansas. The rate of death among vaccinated people was at a high of just 0.01 percent.

"These infections, because they are so mild, illustrate just how efficacious the vaccine is in taming the virus," Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, wrote in an email. "The virus is not going anywhere and overtime [there are] going to be breakthrough infections. The fact that they are mild due to the vaccines doing exactly what they were designed to do should be the story."

Graham credited the vaccine with helping keep his coronavirus symptoms in check.

"I am very glad I was vaccinated because without vaccination I am certain I would not feel as well as I do now," he said.

Graham's positive result is the first for senators in months, after most were vaccinated. His diagnosis raised immediate questions about whether another senator could test positive after several lawmakers confirmed that they had been at a houseboat gathering with Graham over the weekend.

Manchin, who hosted the event on his boat, said that he tested negative.

"There was no celebration. We're just trying to keep people together and do things in a bipartisan way. That's what we do," Manchin said about the houseboat party, which another Senate office noted took place outdoors.
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