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Charleston congressman Joe Cunningham tests positive for the coronavirus

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Election 2018 House South Carolina (copy)

Democrat Joe Cunningham. File/Mic Smith/AP

U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham has tested positive for the coronavirus.

A week after entering self-quarantine, the Charleston congressman confirmed he was sick, and that he became more concerned after experiencing the loss of his sense of taste and smell in recent days.

Cunningham initially went into home quarantine after receiving word from the attending physician of the Congress that he had been in contact with a member who later tested positive for COVID-19.

That was U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah.

"While I otherwise feel fine, since March 17th I have been unable to smell or taste, which I learned this week is a potential symptom of COVID-19," Cunningham, a Democrat representing South Carolina's 1st District, said in a statement Friday.

His doctor instructed him to get tested for COVID-19, and following a virtual consultation on MUSC.care he went to a local testing clinic. The diagnosis was positive.

While coronavirus testing is typically a multi-day process across South Carolina, because of his status, his test was expedited by the Medical University of South Carolina.

A spokeswoman for MUSC confirmed Cunningham received his test results sooner because he is a member of Congress.

"Rep. Cunningham's role as part of the SC national congressional delegation qualified him for high-priority status testing, similar to what exists for health care workers and first responders," MUSC spokeswoman Heather Woolwine said in a statement to The Post and Courier.

"This clinical decision was made in an effort to help Rep. Cunningham determine if it was safe for him to immediately return to Washington to participate in upcoming House floor votes. Cunningham said his symptoms have begun to improve but that he will remain at home until it is safe to leave self-quarantine," she added.

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Cunningham's spokeswoman, Rebecca Drago, said the congressman received his test results just before the House passed the $2 trillion coronavirus relief funding package with a voice vote.

If that voice vote had failed, Drago said Cunningham was preparing to fly back to D.C. to vote for the funding package once his self-imposed quarantine period ended.

Drago said no plane ticket was purchased.

Cunningham is now the fourth Washington lawmaker to test positive for the novel coronavirus strain known as COVID-19.

Other members of Congress who have tested positive so far are Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Democratic U.S. Rep. Mario Rafael Díaz-Balart of Florida and McAdams, a Utah Democrat who remains hospitalized for treatment after he began having difficulty breathing. 

"Look, I've got to be honest, this quarantine kind of sucks, but I'm also extremely lucky that I don't have many symptoms outside of that mild loss of taste and smell," Cunningham said on video posted to social media.

"There are others who are not as lucky," Cunningham said, urging others to keep those less fortunate in their thoughts and prayers.  

Cunningham said his wife and 2-year-old son are not showing any symptoms. 

But he also warned his constituents to take this virus seriously. 

"Anyone can get this," he said.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 843-937-5551. Follow him on Twitter at @skropf47. Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590. Follow her on Twitter at @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Political Editor

Schuyler Kropf is The Post and Courier political editor. He has covered every major political race in South Carolina dating to 1988, including for U.S. Senate, governorship, the Statehouse and Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.

Political Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.

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