Read: It was supposed to be so much worse.
Once they got to the exit, she sat on the floor of the gallery and pushed her legs out straight into the aisle between seats; it was the only way she could sit. She heard glass breaking, then a single gunshot. Beside her, Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester began praying with her hands in the air: Peace. Peace in the land. Peace in this country. Peace in this world. Jayapal felt her knee beginning to swell. She heard pounding on the gallery doors. “We were afraid that nobody was going to come and get us,” Jayapal said.
A single officer opened the gallery door, shouting at people to leave. Outside, Jayapal and the rest of the evacuees passed five or six rioters lying spread-eagle on the floor, surrounded by more officers with their guns drawn. Representative Mikie Sherrill offered Jayapal her arm for stability as the group descended three floors to the Capitol basement.
Oh my god, this is a disaster, Jayapal thought when she arrived in the safe room. More than 100 lawmakers had packed into the blue-carpeted space, with, by her estimate, no more than three feet of distance between everyone, let alone six. They chatted quietly in groups loosely segregated by party, and half a dozen Republicans were not wearing masks. Jayapal sat down on a chair to rest her knee, and a helpful staffer brought her an ice pack. Looking around the room, it hit her: “I just knew that several of us would get COVID.”
Across the room, near a row of folding tables, Rochester, a 58-year-old member of the Congressional Black Caucus, approached a passel of maskless Republicans, including the QAnon supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma. Rochester offered them blue surgical masks, but they refused. “I’m not trying to get political here,” Mullin said, before waving Rochester away. Greene crossed her arms, smiling, while the others, all men, stared at their phones or laughed at some out-of-earshot joke.
“I wasn’t mad or frustrated. I was just thinking about how many people I could get to put on a mask,” Rochester told my colleague Edward-Isaac Dovere this week. Jayapal, however, was livid. “Thirty-two hundred people are dying every day from COVID, and we have these people taking it like a joke,” she told me. She’d been trying hard to stay healthy, to take every precaution, not least to protect her husband, Steve. “And here we are in a lockdown after a white-nationalist, insurgent attack on the Capitol, and we’re forced into this room with them,” she said. “They’re refusing to wear masks and mocking us for it.”
Read: I asked my colleagues to wear masks. They laughed.
Just after 4 a.m. that Thursday, Jayapal left the Capitol and went home to quarantine in a guest bedroom of her Washington, D.C., apartment. On Monday, she tested positive for the virus. Her husband got his positive result on Tuesday.** So far, a total of six lawmakers have tested positive after last week’s attack, including the 75-year-old cancer survivor Bonnie Watson Coleman. In refusing to wear masks, Republicans created “a superspreader event on top of a domestic terrorist attack,” Jayapal said in a statement announcing her diagnosis. She and other members of Congress called for fines to be levied against any lawmaker who refuses to wear a mask in the Capitol going forward—a rule that the House took up and passed on Tuesday night.