Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young, who’s the country’s oldest congressman at 87 and has clinched his reelection, announced today on social media that he has contracted coronavirus, which he downplayed as the “beer virus” during a national headline-making speech in the early days of the pandemic.
At 87, Young is in the highest risk group of age according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the statement posted to his Twitter account says he’s “feeling strong, following proper protocols, working from home in Alaska.” He also asked for privacy.
Young made headlines in March for dismissing the coronavirus pandemic the “beer virus,” urging fellow seniors in the audience to “go forth with everyday activities.” He accused the media of overstating the seriousness of the virus, saying “we are at war now … mostly because of the presentations by the mass media.” He also skipped a vote on the initial relief package.
Young later claimed that at the time he “did not fully grasp the severity of this crisis” and has urged people to take it the virus seriously, however his campaign events from this summer did not require participants to follow safety measures and he was photographed not wearing a mask.
Asked during an interview with Alaska Public Media about people attending his events without masks, Young said, “If you want to wear a mask when they come to my campaign events, that’s their business. That’s self-responsibility. Our nation should be responsible for one’s actions.”
In the same interview, Young gave President Donald Trump a “B, B plus” for his handling of the pandemic.
Young’s office has not yet responded to media requests for comments so it’s unclear where he may have contracted the virus, when his positive test was taken, who else he may have come in contact with or when he became aware of his positive diagnosis.
Since the election, he’s attended an indoor event at a restaurant with several prominent Republicans, including the chief of staff for Alaska U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan and Alaska State Sen. Josh Revak, where both were photographed without masks around tables of people seated normally.
Today also marked an unusual move by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who hours before Young’s announcement utilized the state’s emergency text messaging service to send out a YouTube video where he urged individuals to prevent the virus. The video marked no significant change in course for the administration, which has been reluctant to take an active role in combating the spread of the virus beyond suggesting people consider wearing masks, and was largely met with derision.
Dunleavy as well as many other Republican candidates have attended indoor fundraisers without masks.