House Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) confirmed Thursday that he was hospitalized with COVID-19 in July, the highest ranking lawmaker in the state known to have contracted the virus.


Ryckman confirmed to The Capital-Journal in a phone interview that his hospital stay lasted roughly a week and that it came just days after he held a meeting with someone who later was diagnosed with the virus.


He self-isolated and was tested, he said but later went to the hospital on the advice of his primary care physician after feeling dehydrated and experiencing shortness of breath.


Discharged from the hospital on July 22, Ryckman said he remained in self-isolation for over a week before testing negative for the virus and being cleared by doctors to attend a State Finance Council meeting with Gov. Laura Kelly and other lawmakers on July 29.


The diagnosis was made known to House GOP lawmakers on Thursday, Ryckman said, and the news was first reported by the Wichita Eagle.


His positive test came roughly a month after he worked with his legislative colleagues and Gov. Laura Kelly to limit the governor’s ability to impose restrictions designed to slow the spread of the virus.


In a statement, Kelly criticized Ryckman’s decision to attend the SFC meeting, calling it "reckless and dangerous" given that the lawmaker did not wear a mask.


"As elected officials, we have a unique responsibility to set the right example for the people of Kansas, and to follow the commonsense guidance from medical experts," Kelly said in the statement. "While I’m dismayed by his actions, I wish Speaker Ryckman good health and I’m glad he’s on the road to recovery."


Ryckman brushed away those concerns, saying he had self-isolated for eight days after the diagnosis — longer than Kansas Department for Health and Environment guidelines.


"At some point we expect you to go back to work," he said, adding that "there is a lot of confusion about COVID-19 and I understand that and that is why I took my advice from medical professionals."


An eight-term lawmaker who has spent the last two terms as speaker, Ryckman has been critical of some of Kelly’s efforts to counter the virus’ spread as harmful to businesses in the state.


"In times of crisis and fear, leaders have an obligation to provide stability and take steps to protect the people they serve," Ryckman said in criticism of Kelly’s decision to veto a bill that would have restructured the state’s pandemic response.


Overall, Ryckman said the experience made the virus’ spread in Kansas hit home for him in a new way.


"We have always been concerned about COVID but a lot of us didn’t think it could happen to us. … This made it real for me," he said.