Alaska Rep. Don Young, 87, says he’s been diagnosed with COVID-19

a person behind a podium talking to a debate moderator
Incumbent Rep. Don Young addressing moderator Lori Townsend during a debate with Congressional candidate Alyse Galvin for Alaska’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, on October 22 at Debate for the State. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

U.S. Rep. Don Young, 87, has tested positive for COVID-19, he announced in a tweet Thursday.

In the tweet, Young said he is “feeling strong,” working from home and “following proper protocols.”

His campaign and official office spokesmen did not respond to phone calls. They also did not respond to emailed questions about when Young tested positive, whether any members of his staff had been tested for or diagnosed with COVID-19 and whether others had been exposed.

A conservative news website, Must Read Alaska, reported that “several people” associated with Young’s campaign have also tested positive.

The Associated Press declared Wednesday that Young had won re-election over Democratic Party-endorsed independent Alyse Galvin. He was photographed at one of his fundraisers not wearing a mask and said he did not require them at his political events.

Must Read Alaska published a photo in a Monday newsletter that showed Young at a recent birthday party for his longtime political consultant, Art Hackney, at the Anchorage restaurant Little Italy.

Hackney’s birthday was Friday, the newsletter said, although it did not specify whether the party was the same day.

A screenshot of a newsletter published Monday by conservative news website Must Read Alaska. It shows Republican political consultant Art Hackney at a birthday party; U.S. Rep. Don Young is to Hackney’s left. (Screenshot from Must Read Alaska newsletter)

Several other prominent figures in the Alaska Republican political establishment were present, the newsletter said, including Anchorage state Sen. Josh Revak, former Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, conservative activist Bernadette Wilson and Larry Burton, the chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan.

None of the attendees were wearing masks in the photo.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Sullivan said Burton has been tested and is awaiting results. She added that Burton’s last contact with Sullivan was on Election Day, and she said it was brief.

Young, a Republican, was first elected in 1973 and is now the Dean of the House, meaning he’s the longest-serving member of Congress. He’s also the chamber’s oldest member.

U.S. Rep. Don Young downplayed COVID-19 as the “beer virus.” Now he and other Republicans are back to in-person campaign events.

At 87, Young is more likely to become severely ill from COVID-19, according to the CDC, which says the risk rises with age and is highest among those 85 and older.

Young made headlines early in the pandemic when he jokingly referred to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, as the “beer virus.” He later said he didn’t fully grasp the severity of the virus and the associated public health crisis.

Revak, the Anchorage GOP state senator at the birthday party with Young, said in a phone interview Thursday that he’s been quarantining at home for the past few days and plans to get tested for COVID-19. He said he was “informed properly” of his exposure by “other folks,” but declined to release details of that process.

Anchorage Republican state Sen. Josh Revak (Nat Herz / Alaska Public Media)

Revak, a military veteran and former aide to Young, is one of a number of Alaska Republican elected officials who have downplayed the severity of COVID-19. Earlier in the pandemic, he posted on Facebook about eating at an Anchorage restaurant, Kriner’s Diner, while it defied a citywide closure to slow the spread of the virus.

“I love the Congressman dearly — he’s like family to me. I always worry about him, just like I would worry about anybody else when I cherish the time I’m able to spend with them. Life is short,” Revak said. “I’m not the type of person to live in fear. I think we should be careful. But if Don Young wants to take the risk so that he can be in fellowship with people, as opposed to isolate, that’s really up to him.”