House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., earlier this year said he took “every precaution” before ignoring state rules and attending a maskless wedding ceremony and reception for his son during a December surge in COVID-19 cases in California.
What McCarthy did not disclose in defending the San Luis Obispo County gathering was that he learned later that he had tested positive for antibodies to the coronavirus.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the immune system can produce antibodies one to three weeks after a person is infected with the coronavirus. That means McCarthy could have been infectious, but asymptomatic, as he mingled with family members and others at the ceremony, experts say. It could also mean he contracted the coronavirus at the wedding or was infected long before the event and thus was no longer at risk of spreading it to others, according to the experts.
McCarthy told the Los Angeles Times that the 13 family members who attended the Dec. 5 wedding were tested for the virus beforehand and “were healthy then and have remained healthy. And like the choices families have made all across the country, the choices we made [were] ours.”
At the time of the event, state mandates required masks at weddings and banned receptions altogether.
The fact that McCarthy had no idea he had been previously infected with the coronavirus underscores the importance of following health orders and guidelines aimed at curbing the spread of the virus, experts said.
“It highlights the fact that COVID is highly transmissible — that if you are in settings where people are not masking and not practicing physical distancing, and if there’s high community transmission rates going on, it is very possible to be mixing with someone who is asymptomatic themselves but capable of transmitting disease,” said Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, medical epidemiologist and infectious diseases expert at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
“It’s always helpful and supportive of public health guidance when those in elected positions try to emulate and follow the guidance that the constituents are being asked to abide by,” Kim-Farley added.
UC San Francisco infectious diseases specialist Dr. Monica Gandhi warned that “before vaccination, you could feel well, and you could still spread” the coronavirus if you’re infected.
“Having a wedding during ... a COVID peak was likely not the best thing to do,” she said.