U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin tests positive for COVID-19, the 3rd GOP senator in 24 hours

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin speaks before Vice President Mike Pence at a campaign appearance at the Dairyland Power Cooperative Frank Linder Service Center in La Crosse on Sept. 7.

Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said Saturday that he has tested positive for COVID-19 and will be isolating at his home in Oshkosh.  

“I feel fine, I feel completely normal,” Johnson said during a conference call with reporters.

Johnson is the third Republican U.S. senator to test positive for the novel coronavirus within the last 24 hours.

Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina announced positive tests Friday.

On Saturday, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., said he’ll go into quarantine until Oct. 14 as a result of Johnson’s positive test, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Peters is the ranking member of the Johnson-led Homeland Security Committee. Peters said he underwent a COVID-19 test Saturday and the result was negative.

Johnson disclosed his diagnosis a day after speaking to the Ozaukee County Republican Party Oktoberfest Dinner at the River Club of Mequon on Friday night.

Track COVID-19 in Wisconsin:See the latest numbers and trends

Johnson said after hearing that Lee had come down with the virus earlier Friday, he stopped in for a COVID-19 test while traveling to the dinner.

He said he had been tested numerous times over the past few months, with negative results, but learned he had tested positive late Friday night after his dinner appearance.

“It was on the drive back that I got the call that I was positive,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he had his staff notify the GOP organizers before Friday’s event that he would be taking precautions to ensure he’s healthy and ready to vote on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I would not come early. I would not stick around. I would not take photographs. I would maintain social distancing. And I would just come in and speak and I would leave. And that’s exactly what happened,” Johnson said they were told.

Johnson had recently been in a 14-day quarantine after his chief of staff, Tony Blando, had been diagnosed with the virus. Blando has since recovered, Johnson said.

He said his physician believes he most likely contracted it through his chief of staff.

“I do a really good job with social distancing,” he said.

Johnson did not attend the Sept. 26 White House ceremony announcing Barrett’s nomination, an event that has drawn attention as a potential source of an outbreak in Washington, D.C.

Lee and Tillis were among several prominent people — including President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump — who attended the Rose Garden ceremony and have since tested positive for the coronavirus. Many in attendance did not wear masks, and photographs and videos taken afterward showed many of them shaking hands and embracing one another.

Could slow action on Supreme Court justice

With three Republican U.S. senators sidelined by COVID-19, it raises questions about the Senate’s ability to act quickly on Barrett’s judicial nomination. Lee and Tillis are on the Senate Judiciary Committee that will first consider the nomination, while Johnson is not.

Johnson said he has been adjusting his schedule and taking precautions so he can take the vote on Barrett, “even if I got quarantined for two weeks or developed symptoms or whatever.”

“I think we’re catching this early enough, and hopefully everybody else will take the measures I was doing,” he said.

Johnson’s positive test also comes at a time when Wisconsin has emerged as one of the nation’s coronavirus hot spots, including Johnson’s home area in the northeast part of the state.

Despite the recent surge in cases, Wisconsin Republican lawmakers on Friday urged a judge to strike down the state’s mask mandate. The GOP lawmakers have offered no plan to contain the virus.

Johnson advocates for wearing masks but said, “I’m not in favor of mask mandates. I think it’s up to individuals to be responsible.”

Earlier this year, Johnson raised some eyebrows with statements on the coronavirus.

In an interview in March with the Journal Sentinel Washington bureau chief Craig Gilbert, Johnson said: “I’m not denying what a nasty disease COVID-19 can be, and how it’s obviously devastating to somewhere between 1% and 3.4% of the population.”

“But that means 97 to 99% will get through this and develop immunities and will be able to move beyond this. But we don’t shut down our economy because tens of thousands of people die on the highways. It’s a risk we accept so we can move about. We don’t shut down our economies because tens of thousands of people die from the common flu,” Johnson said.

Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, pushed back at Johnson’s comments, saying it was a “false equivalency to compare traffic accidents” to the coronavirus.

In a pair of tweets Saturday, Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin said that “given the outbreak in the Senate,” she received a COVID-19 test Friday and it was negative.

“I am sorry to hear that a number of my colleagues have tested positive for COVID-19, including Senator Johnson,” Baldwin said. “I wish them all a healthy recovery as they quarantine to protect others and get better.”

At a voter registration event at Fiserv Forum Saturday, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, said she offered “thoughts and prayers” to Johnson and others who have the virus.

“This is a treacherous disease, and not only does it cause premature death but sometimes a debilitating impact afterwards,” she said.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat, also said he hopes Johnson, Trump and others infected with the virus recover quickly.  

“I wish Sen. Johnson, I wish President Trump and the first lady and all Americans that have been infected with this disease, a full and speedy recovery,” Barrett said. “My prayers are with them and their families, and I know this is a difficult time for literally millions of Americans.” 

Journal Sentinel reporter Ricardo Torres contributed to this article.