House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) earlier this year said he took “every precaution” before ignoring state rules and attending a maskless wedding ceremony and reception for his son during a December surge in COVID-19 cases in California.
What McCarthy did not disclose in defending the San Luis Obispo County gathering was that he learned later that he had tested positive for antibodies to the coronavirus.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the immune system can produce antibodies one to three weeks after a person is infected with the coronavirus. That means McCarthy could have been infectious, but asymptomatic, as he mingled with family members and others at the ceremony, experts say. It could also mean he contracted the coronavirus at the wedding or was infected long before the event and thus was no longer at risk of spreading it to others, according to the experts.
McCarthy told The Times that the 13 family members who attended the Dec. 5 wedding were tested for the virus beforehand and “were healthy then and have remained healthy. And like the choices families have made all across the country, the choices we made [were] ours.”
At the time of the event, state mandates required masks at weddings and banned receptions altogether.
The fact that McCarthy had no idea he had been previously infected with the coronavirus underscores the importance of following health orders and guidelines aimed at curbing the spread of the virus, experts said.
“It highlights the fact that COVID is highly transmissible — that if you are in settings where people are not masking and not practicing physical distancing, and if there’s high community transmission rates going on, it is very possible to be mixing with someone who is asymptomatic themselves but capable of transmitting disease,” said Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, medical epidemiologist and infectious diseases expert at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
“It’s always helpful and supportive of public health guidance when those in elected positions try to emulate and follow the guidance that the constituents are being asked to abide by,” Kim-Farley added.
UC San Francisco infectious diseases specialist Dr. Monica Gandhi warned that “before vaccination, you could feel well, and you could still spread” the coronavirus if you’re infected.
“Having a wedding during … a COVID peak was likely not the best thing to do,” she said.
McCarthy revealed in March that he learned he had tested positive for the antibodies a few days before undergoing elbow surgery on Dec. 22. He told reporters that a preoperative blood test found the antibodies. He said he was shocked by the result, adding, “I didn’t know it. … Nobody on my staff got it either.”
The House leader said he had been tested many times for the virus, and his doctor thought he had likely been infected within two months of his blood test. McCarthy said he believed he had been infected sometime around the Nov. 3 election but did not respond to questions from The Times about why he thought that.
If he did acquire the virus in early November, he likely would no longer have been infectious by the time of the wedding, the experts said.
McCarthy has expressed support for wearing masks in group settings and taking other steps experts recommend to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Two days before his elbow surgery, he announced that he had received his first shot of COVID-19 vaccine.
In the weeks before his son’s wedding, the pandemic was worsening in large swaths of California, including San Luis Obispo County, and it was clear by early December that much of the state was headed toward a second stay-at-home order.
On the morning of the wedding, McCarthy mockingly alluded on Facebook to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s attendance at a party the month before at the exclusive French Laundry restaurant, a maskless get-together that drew accusations of hypocrisy and elitism. Newsom later apologized, but his presence at the party helped fuel the recall campaign against him.
Three videos of the McCarthy nuptials at the Cass House in Cayucos show that the dozen or so attendees, including the congressman, were not wearing masks at the outdoor ceremony. The attendees are also seen inside a building without masks — among them the bride, who is filmed getting her hair styled (the stylist in the shot is wearing a mask).
In one of the videos, the tuxedoed father of the groom is shown using a microphone to address guests. An invitation to the wedding, shown in one of the videos, says a celebration would follow.
In response to questions from The Times in February, McCarthy said in an emailed statement that the original plan for a 300-guest wedding was scrapped and that the bride and groom decided to go forward with just parents, grandparents and sisters.
“We took every precaution to ensure a safe celebration — starting with just 13 family members,” the statement said. “We spent the majority of the time outside with the dinner following the ceremony in an almost completely open area. We wore masks indoors that day, except in those instances where some had to let makeup dry or when we were eating.”