It is rare for a member of Congress to publicly share her own diary entry — and rarer still for that entry to offer a window into a personal reckoning with COVID-19.
But that is what U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-5th) posted on Twitter late Monday morning. The image of a handwritten page of her journal offered an unusual moment of intimacy from a congresswoman who tends to keep her private life out of the public eye—as well displaying the candid reflections of a mother and political leader facing the fears and frustrations of a virus that has claimed nearly 200,000 lives in the United States.
“Tossed and turned most of the night,” the journal entry, dated Sept. 21, 2020, opens. “Breathing is so labored. Have had a scratchy throat and tacky breathing for a few days. Thought it was really bad seasonal allergies. This is clearly not seasonal allergies."
Hayes announced Sunday that she had tested positive for COVID-19 and would quarantine for 14 days. Her positive result followed an announcement Saturday that one of her staffers, with whom she had “close contact,” had tested positive for the virus.
Hayes, a first-term member of Congress and former National Teacher for the Year who stunned the political establishment with her 2018 election victory, represents the 5th Congressional District, which covers a swath of northwestern part of the state. She faces a challenge this November from David X. Sullivan, a Republican who has pitched himself as a law-and-order candidate.
Hayes' journal entry contains the mundane—reminders to order thank-you cards and groceries—as well as the profound anxieties of a worried mother and the disappointment of a busy politician forced into a self-quarantine.
“Myles got tested this morning," Hayes wrote, referring to her son. "Praying for a negative result and healing. What are the odds of 2 members of the same family testing for Covid at different times?”
Hayes' husband, Milford Hayes, a Waterbury police officer, tested positive for the virus in late April, which sent their family into quarantine. When she was tested then, Hayes received a negative COVID-19 result.
The entry also conveys Hayes' frustrations about a pandemic that has hindered the usual rhythms of her position, noting that she stopped all events for months and had only begun to phase them back in over the last two weeks.
“Don’t like feeling winded,” Hayes wrote. “... Not used to being the one out of commission..”
Fifteen members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Monday, beginning with Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, who tested positive in mid-March, through to Hayes, who tested positive over the weekend, according to GovTracker, a site aimed at making Congress more open and accessible. Overall, seventy members of Congress have been quarantined due to COVID-19 concerns, have come into contact with someone who tested positive for the virus, or have tested positive themselves.
In a Twitter thread about her positive test result, Hayes noted that members of Congress are not tested regularly for COVID-19, and instead rely on face masks, social distancing, and frequent cleaning routines to prevent the spread of the virus.
It took Hayes three attempts to obtain a COVID-19 test over the weekend, she said on social media. In her journal entry, she reflected on the hurdles her staff faced in getting tested themselves—“limited time slots, long waits, paying out of pocket"—and seemed to be mulling over possible legislative solutions that could be sent "to leadership.”
“My experience and the experience of my staff underscore the need for a [national] testing strategy with a coherent way to receive speedy, accurate results. This level of anxiety and uncertainty is untenable,” she wrote on Twitter.
Hayes appeared at an event in Westport Sept. 10 with Gov. Ned Lamont, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz and State Sen. Will Haskell, at which they all wore face masks. Haskell said that he took a COVID-19 test Monday, which returned negative.
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