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Rep. Michelle Steel, who questioned mask mandates, tests positive for coronavirus

Rep. Michelle Steel (R-Seal Beach), who previously expressed skepticism about the need for a mask mandate in Orange County, tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday.

Steel, 65, learned that morning that she had been in contact with someone who tested positive. She sought a test in the afternoon “out of an abundance of caution,” and it came back positive, according to a statement released by her office.

“At the advice of the Attending Physician, and to protect the health of my colleagues, I will be quarantining,” said Steel, who was sworn in on Sunday after winning the seat from Democratic incumbent Harley Rouda.

Steel said she has no symptoms, and further details about her exposure were not clear. Danielle Stewart, Steel’s deputy chief of staff and communications director, said she could not provide additional information.

“We’ve done the appropriate contact tracing. There’s a lot going on at the Capitol at the moment,” Stewart said, referring to the Wednesday’s lockdown prompted by a mob entering the building and interrupting Congress’ certification of the electoral college vote count. “We’re just trying to make sure everyone stays safe.”

Steel, who sat on the Orange County board of supervisors for six years, defeated Rouda in November to represent California’s 48th Congressional District.

It was one of several tight House races that California Republicans successfully recaptured from Democrats. Steel is among the first Korean American women to serve in Congress.

Steel drew criticism this year from some residents for her approach to the pandemic, especially regarding face coverings. She also captured strong support from members of the public who saw mask mandates and business closures as a violation of their liberties.

In the spring, Steel repeatedly questioned the Orange County health officer’s decision to mandate face coverings countywide amid intense public scrutiny. The health officer later resigned after facing a death threat for requiring that masks be worn in public.

Steel changed course in July after a surge in cases threatened to slow the reopenings of businesses in the county. She put out a statement asking residents and visitors to wear face coverings in public.

“This is of the utmost importance to protect your health and the health of others, so that we can return back to normal as quickly as possible,” she said at the time.

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