As It Happens

N.J. congresswoman gets COVID-19 after sheltering with maskless colleagues during U.S. Capitol siege

"I've got cold symptoms, but nothing more serious than that," said Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey. The 75-year-old cancer survivor previously received the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

‘Your right to not wear a mask does not supersede my right to be safe,' says Bonnie Watson Coleman

Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman joins members of MoveOn.org and members of Congress at an event to demand congress renew an assault weapons ban on July 12, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for MoveOn.org)

Read Story Transcript

Last Wednesday, Bonnie Watson Coleman sheltered from rioters on Capitol Hill. Now, the Democratic Congresswoman is sheltering at home with COVID-19. 

During last week's violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump, Watson Coleman locked down in a secure location with other lawmakers, some of whom were not wearing masks or face coverings. A statement released by her office on Jan. 11 revealed that she received a positive rapid antigen test result for COVID-19.

"Somebody came to the door, banged on the door and told us they had to move us to a secure location," the 75-year-old cancer survivor told As It Happens host Carol Off. "They took us to the holding room where I found that there were more than 100 members and staffers and folks.… That's where people were refusing to wear their masks."

Watson Coleman said she's been working from home since March and visited Washington D.C. to attend her swearing-in ceremony.

"I never was really in a mass of people until that day. And I never was around people who didn't have their mask on until that day," she recounted. "So I deduce that that's somehow how I got infected in that room."

Watson Coleman said her colleague, congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware, was trying to pass out masks to people who weren't wearing them but they declined.

WATCH: People locked down during U.S. Capitol siege are offered, then refuse, masks used to help prevent COVID-19 spread

"It was just their arrogant defiance, coupled with their stupidity," she said. She added that while she was being protected from an insurrection, she was put in a situation that was unsafe because of the pandemic. In that moment, she recalled that she was more concerned to be in a room with so many people, some of whom were maskless.

A video from Jan. 6 posted by Punchbowl News showed six House Republicans refusing masks offered by a colleague while they were sheltering during the rioting. Watson Coleman said she didn't know if anyone had spoken with those lawmakers since the incident. 

When asked what she would say if she encountered them, she replied, "Your right to not wear a mask does not supersede my right to be safe."

The congresswoman described having cold symptoms, "but nothing more serious than that."

"I have had my first shot, my first [COVID-19] vaccine shot. And I did have the monoclonal antibodies. I was told by one of the doctors that talked to me, that it's probably going to save my life."


Written by Tahiat Mahboob. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

now