Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters.
The top Republican in the Pennsylvania Senate acknowledged Wednesday “mistakes were made” and necessary coronavirus safety precautions were ignored during a controversial public hearing in Gettysburg last week on unsubstantiated claims of election fraud.
Breaking his caucus’ silence on the matter, interim Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre) said organizers of the hearing before an all-GOP policy committee allowed large crowds to attend, and did not adhere to social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines.
The lack of protocol became all the more concerning after Corman learned that the GOP senator who organized the meeting, Doug Mastriano of Franklin County, tested positive for COVID-19 later that day, during a trip to the White House to meet with President Donald Trump.
“Clearly, mistakes were made,” said Corman, adding that his office is reviewing how the hearing was organized and executed. “And that is life — we all make mistakes and it’s now our job to review it.”
Mastriano, one of the legislature’s most conservative members, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Since his diagnosis, Mastriano has kept an uncharacteristically low profile. Earlier this week, he confirmed during a Facebook Live session that he had tested positive for the virus. He said he believed he contracted it from contaminated brushes that a makeup artist used on him before appearing on camera, but he did not provide further details.
“I knew right there, stop her, don’t let her put those brushes on your face, just walk away, and I didn’t,” Mastriano said during the Facebook Live session, which has since been deleted from his page.
He did not say how many days before the hearing he had been in contact with the makeup artist, or whether a contact tracer had alerted him before the hearing that he may have been in close proximity to an infected person.
The hearing at the Wyndham Gettysburg, which featured testimony from Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Guiliani, drew dozens of spectators. As the crowd grew, organizers continued to allow people to enter the room.
Temperatures were not taken at the door, nor did organizers screen attendees for any symptoms of the coronavirus. Some in the audience did not wear masks.
Before the hearing began, legislators gathered in a small holding room, from which many emerged without masks.
This week, a second senator who attended the hearing and sat in close proximity to Mastriano, Judy Ward of Blair County, wrote on her Facebook page that she had tested positive for the coronavirus. But she said she believed she contracted it during a Thanksgiving gathering.
The hearing was before the all-GOP Senate Majority Policy Committee, which does not have the power to advance legislation. Instead, it meets to discuss issues or policies that are important to Republican senators.
Corman did not attend, but Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R., Westmoreland) did and sat next to Mastriano during the nearly four-hour hearing. She has not responded to several requests for comment.
In the interview Wednesday, Corman said he was not aware of any additional positive tests among senators who attended the hearing. He did say that administrative officials in the Senate, upon learning of Mastriano’s positive test, began contacting people who had been in close contact with the lawmaker based on the recommended guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
His office’s review of the hearing, he said, is not aimed at sanctioning anyone, but instead at ensuring protocols are followed for all future government hearings, whether they occur in the Capitol or outside statehouse grounds.
“There is no penalty,” Corman said. “But you have to review what happened, acknowledge that there were mistakes, and make sure there are policies in place so that it doesn’t happen again.”
Get daily updates from WHYY News!