Hollingsworth tests positive for COVID-19 antibodies, donates plasma

An Indiana congressman who faced national criticism for comments he made about the coronavirus pandemic in April tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies last month.

Ninth District Congressman Trey Hollingsworth said Monday he tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies in June. The two-term congressman represents Indiana’s Ninth Congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. The district encompasses Jackson County and several other southern Indiana counties surrounding Louisville.

Hollingsworth thinks he had COVID-19 in March — when cases of the respiratory illness began spreading across the country rapidly — and he displayed mild symptoms, he said. He did not get tested for the disease at the time because testing was in short supply then, and he never had severe enough symptoms to warrant a trip to the hospital, he said.

When he started displaying the symptoms, he quarantined in his home in Jeffersonville from March to April, he said.

In mid-April, Hollingsworth faced national criticism for a comment he made in an interview with WIBC, an Indianapolis radio station, saying that choosing to send Americans back to work during the pandemic is the “lesser of two evils.”

Hollingsworth and his family were tested for the antibodies last month, and he was the only one who tested positive. He could not describe his initial reaction when he found out he did in fact have COVID-19, but he knew he wanted to use his antibodies to help others, he said.

“I don’t know if I had a specific reaction. My first thought was, ‘How can I use this to help our country?’” Hollingsworth said.

So Hollingsworth donated convalescent plasma Monday at the Kentucky Blood Center in Louisville. People who possess the COVID-19 antibodies are now being encouraged by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the American Red Cross to donate plasma because it may be used to help patients with severe cases of the disease, according to the Red Cross.

Plasma from patients with antibodies from the virus is being investigated by the FDA as a possible treatment for severe symptoms of the illness, according to the FDA website.

“I found out that I had a substantial presence of antibodies in my system, so I could donate and hopefully help others,” he said.

Knowing he had the potentially deadly disease does not change his views about it, Hollingsworth said. The country still needs to find a path forward to move past the pandemic safely, he said.

In fact, his views were reinforced by Americans finding safe ways to continue with their lives, whether it be by wearing masks in public or local businesses installing Plexiglas sneeze guards, he said.

“What I have seen is America trying to move forward … and not because coronavirus has gone away completely, but because we know we can find safe ways to get together, safe ways to go back to work, safe ways to power our economy forward,” Hollingsworth said.

He said those who have been critical of him are looking at his previous comments too simplistically as if there are only two options: Staying at home or going out and dying.

“The answer can’t be let’s do nothing and stay in our homes,” he said.

“To say we can either stay in our homes until a vaccine is distributed … or you go to work and die, I think that is overly simplistic … it negates the work of our physicians and so many of our companies and so many of our employees who are working to find a way to go back to work safely, to go to religious ceremonies safely, to be able to find a way to ensure that we can enjoy somewhat of a normal life while doing so safely.”

In the past month, Hollingsworth visited hospitals, local police departments and libraries and met with teachers in his district to thank them for providing services during the pandemic, he said.

“I’ve been amazed at all the great things people have been doing, whether it’s libraries developing curbside pickup or our teachers creating online curriculum literally overnight or our health care heroes who are sacrificing so much of their time,” he said.

Hollingsworth encourages all Americans to do their part while the country continues to navigate the ongoing pandemic. The virus should be taken seriously, he said.

“I’m wearing my mask and I’m doing everything I can to prevent transmission, and I encourage everybody to do that,” Hollingsworth said. “We know we can take some simple steps to ensure fewer Hoosiers — fewer Americans — get infected.”

Andy Ruff, Hollingsworth’s Democrat opponent from Bloomington, said the congressman was irresponsible for not announcing he had COVID-19 symptoms sooner.

“He still had an obligation to announce and let people know that he was in quarantine and he had symptoms … withholding that information from people is outrageous,” Ruff said. “He’s trying — and having some success — by now putting a smiley face on this situation.”

Ruff also is disappointed Hollingsworth stands by the comments he made in April after discovering he had the illness.

“He had an opportunity now to share with people that, ‘Wow! I didn’t take this seriously enough before and I was encouraging an approach that was irresponsible,’” Ruff said. “Instead of sharing that experience in a way that could benefit society, he spins it into something for himself.”

The United States has seen large spikes in COVID-19 cases recently with Florida alone surpassing most countries around the world, reporting more than 15,000 new cases Saturday. Indiana saw a spike Friday when the number of new cases nearly reached 800, the largest increase since early May.

More than 20 states have implemented some type of face mask requirement, including Indiana’s neighbors, Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois and Michigan. Indianapolis issued a citywide mask mandate July 9.

Hollingsworth said states need to continue to monitor COVID-19 case data but take steps that allow Americans to continue living their lives safely, which may have to include regressing on some reopening plans, he said.

“We have to make sure we are following that data and we are finding a pathway forward that’s not too aggressive but is also not too lethargic,” Hollingsworth said.

And as public schools across the state prepare to reopen their doors soon, Hollingsworth understands schools have to strike a balance between keeping students safe and providing the best education possible, he said.

“There are impacts on our children from learning virtually or not going to school, but I certainly want to make sure every child is safe at home and safe at school and they don’t bring the virus back home,” Hollingsworth said. “I’m a parent, and I know every other parent wants the best for their child and wants them to be healthy, so finding that balance is going to be critical.”

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