Former Rep. Harley Rouda Thursday criticized Rep. Michelle Steel, who unseated him in November, for a joke and other comments she made about the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a Zoom call with Orange County business leaders on Friday, Steel jokingly referred to the coronavirus, which she was infected with recently, as a diet plan.

“I went through this Covid for last two weeks and, you know what, 99% of the people they survive,” said Steel, R-Surfside. “And you know what I went through. I lost a few weights. It’s a very good way to lose your weight.”

Steel said she lost her senses of smell and taste, common symptoms of COVID-19, but, she added, “other than that I went through very light and my husband same thing too. So, you know what? Just open up the businesses. Let people decide they have to wear masks and they just have 6 feet away and if they feel sick then they don’t come out and they quarantine themselves.

“So let’s open up the businesses. Let’s open up the schools. In Orange County we opened up the schools since last August, and, you know what? We didn’t have much problem except a few here and there.”

Steel also argued that other states such as Florida and Georgia did not implement the same measures California did in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus and did not have infection rates as high.

“They open up everything,” Steel said. “Their numbers are much lower than California’s. So give them a little more freedom, open up the businesses, let business people run the business and then that’s the government has to run.”

Rouda, who is planning to run to win back the congressional seat he held for one term, said coronavirus “isn’t something to joke about.”

The Democrat told City News Service, “It’s not the time for flippant remarks… when 400,000 of our fellow Americans have died through the spread of this virus and the mismanagement and addressing it at the federal level, and, in her case, at the local level when she was (chairwoman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors).”

Rouda said Steel has “made fun of wearing masks” and “sided with companies who ignored the guidance on how to curb the spread of the virus.”

Rouda accused Steel of attending “super spreader events” in which attendees did not wear face coverings.

Rouda said the irony to him is that following the guidelines from federal, state and county health professionals will help slow the spread of the virus, which will allow businesses to reopen sooner.

“Our elected officials need to model that behavior and when she fails to model that behavior she is actually hurting businesses,” Rouda said. “That’s the most frustrating thing for me.”

Rouda also criticized Steel’s comments about the Affordable Care Act on her call with the business leaders.

Steel told the business leaders, “we have to stop a lot of things, like Obamacare.”

Rouda said, “the worst time to reduce health care for individuals is during a pandemic.”

He added her comment “shows how insensitive she is to the needs of her fellow Americans.”

There was no immediate response to an email sent to Steel’s office seeking comment.

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