(AP) — On Christmas morning, Las Vegas Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen was cooking ham on her stove when it hit her: she couldn’t smell anything.
Both Nguyen and her husband, who work as defense attorneys, had been feeling under the weather for a few days. A prosecutor she interacted with in court had told her they tested positive. Nguyen immediately worried about her 74-year-old father and 83-year-old father in-law, who both live in a household with her, her husband and their two children.
Everyone in the household subsequently tested positive for COVID-19.
Nguyen is one of three state lawmakers fighting the virus. She, State Sen. Pat Spearman and Assemblyman Howard Watts III have all used their diagnoses to remind people to commit to wearing masks and adhere to Nevada’s prevention measures.
Nguyen said she’s started to feel better, but contracting the virus reminded her that there’s much that she can’t control. It reaffirmed her commitment to wearing a mask and avoiding gatherings to prevent community spread, she said.
“It can happen to anyone. A lot of people don’t talk about their positive diagnosis. People get embarrassed about it because they think, ‘Oh, I wasn’t following proper protocols,’” the 43-year-old Democrat said. “It’s just important to say, even when you’re doing everything right, you can still have slip-ups and test positive.”
Spearman, 65, was hospitalized last week for worsening symptoms. She told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Thursday that she remained in the hospital but had started to feel better.
“People who are saying it’s political have no idea what it’s like to be gasping for air,” she said.
Watts, 33, said he believed he contracted the virus at a small get-together with friends outside his household. As a community leader, he’s tried to set an example, adhere closely to guidelines and avoid contact with anyone outside his household. But he wasn’t perfect and believes letting his guard down led to his positive test. He hopes his candor will convince others to adhere to state guidelines.
“I don’t think (getting COVID-19) is anything to be ashamed of. We should all do our best to not get it, but if you do get it, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. We can learn from each other and from our experiences,” Watts said.
“With us getting this virus, it just shows how prevalent it is in the community,” he added.
All three lawmakers are Democrats from the Las Vegas area.
The Legislature is scheduled to convene in Carson City on Feb. 1 to address the virus, the state budget and other issues, but has not announced any coronavirus-related plans.
During the summer, lawmakers met for two emergency special sessions, during which one unnamed lawmaker and her husband tested positive for the virus.
Nevada’s positivity rate is currently the second-highest in the U.S., according to a Dec. 27 White House Task Force report. State officials reported Thursday that the rate, measured as a 14-day rolling average, was 20.7%. In other states, legislatures have postponed proceedings amid surges.
Nguyen said the fact that the Legislature meets biennially meant postponing the session would be difficult and could compound problems for Nevada residents.
“There’s a lot of people’s lives at stake on the decisions and policies that we make in those 120 days,” she said. “Doing things virtually slows things down and I have some concerns that, when you have a limited amount of time to do the state’s business every other year, the threat of COVID will be problematic.”
Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
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