And the White House is wrestling the idea that their lobbying efforts might have created a coronavirus super-spreader event.
The group of state lawmakers flew in to Washington, D.C., last week in order to lobby the Senate for a Democrat-sponsored voting bill that would quash the type of legislation their home-state Republican counterparts are currently trying to push through. Many of them shared the same charter jet – from which they posted a maskless selfie.
Their absence from Austin also left the state Legislature without a quorum, meaning the GOP majority can’t vote on their own bill, even though it would likely pass.
But a coronavirus outbreak spread to at least six of the lawmakers this week, two people who interacted with them and is creating a secondhand risk for other individuals.
The combo punch has stymied the group’s hopes of meeting with members of Congress they hope to convince to support the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
An unnamed White House official and communications staffer for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi each contracted the virus at a reception for the Democratic lawmakers last week, according to an Axios report.
Fox News also spoke with several of the Texas lawmakers Wednesday who stepped aside during a meeting that they said involved the entire traveling caucus.
“All of us had been fully vaccinated since March,” state Rep. Gene Wu wrote in a lengthy Twitter thread Monday. “We got complacent because we felt safe. We had no positives for months, and we got sloppy.”
Everyone involved is believed to have been vaccinated, meaning the people who tested positive are among a small proportion of vaccine recipients who do so.
When questioned by Fox News’ Peter Doocy Tuesday about whether the ill-fated meeting was a “super-spreader” event, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki backed away from the term.
More than 10% of the traveling Democrats have now tested positive for the virus, Doocy noted – at least six out of 55.
“That is not a characterization we’re making here,” Psaki said, referring to the “super-spreader” term. “Vaccines are not foolproof. We know vaccines – I think these individuals have been vaccinated. That is a good sign.”
But Dr. Marc Siegel said that the term “super-spreader” is fair to use to describe the encounter – although there’s a bright side.
“A lot of people didn’t get sick because they were vaccinated,” he said. “This is a super-spreader event with less spread because of the vaccine – that’s the glass half full.”
If no one had been vaccinated, he added, everyone at the reception would have been at risk. And none of the vaccinated victims have shown serious symptoms. But despite the vaccinations, and the “word games,” the illness still spread.
“They’re creating divisiveness by refusing to acknowledge a medical reality,” Dr. Siegel said of the White House’s refusal to use the term.
According to a Cleveland Clinic, a super-spreader event is when “there’s a greater amount of transmission than would be expected” at a large event.
Fortunately, vaccinated individuals who contract the virus are much less likely to spread it or develop severe reactions and end up hospitalized, and Wu said no one who became infected suffered anything beyond mild symptoms.
Vaccinated individuals who still manage to contract “breakthrough” coronavirus infections see a lower level of the virus in their system – the nostrils in particular, Dr. Siegel said. Although the amount varies between individuals, it does reduce the risk of transmission significantly.
Although the numbers change as more data is recorded, he said experts expect to see around 14 cases per 100 of the new Delta coronavirus variant in fully vaccinated individuals who received the two-shot vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna.
“I want people to understand this doesn’t shed a shadow on the vaccine,” he said. “The numbers are consistent. The only variability here is how much virus you have in your nose – the more virus, the more you could be a super-spreader.”
The unmasked meeting itself, however, he said was an example of “recklessness and mixed messaging.”
After the reception with Texas Democrats, where one of her staffers reportedly obtained the virus, Pelosi was photographed at the Capitol once again wearing a mask.
The Texas Democrats had hoped to meet with and lobby several senators, especially the moderates Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona.
“I think the more we educate, the more we can bring to their attention the things that are already happening in Texas, I think that they will understand where we stand,” Texas state Rep. Jarvis Johnson said last week. “And certainly we’ve met with all of the other senators to lay out what our plans are, what our goals are, what we hope to achieve.”
Fox News’ Paul Conner contributed to this report.