BY MAIRE O’NEILL
House Republicans are reporting Thursday evening that five COVID-19 cases have been confirmed at the Capitol in the past week. One of the cases is a Republican representative and the others are staff members. Republican leaders were reportedly speaking to Department of Health officials and have directed their staff to stay at home Friday.
Despite strict COVID rules at the Roundhouse, the Los Alamos Reporter was surprised early this week to hear in a live-stream from the House floor, Speaker Brian Egolf asking a representative to don their mask.
Speaker Egolf issued the following statement late Thursday evening:
“I wish for a fast and full recovery of the staff and member who have tested positive for COVID-19. This is an unpredictable virus, and I sincerely hope their case is mild or asymptomatic.
“My office is taking this situation very seriously, and the Department of Health is conducting the necessary contact tracing to identify any additional positive cases in order to prevent further spread within the building.
“The Democratic leadership and members of the House have taken every measure to protect the safety and health of all members and staff, even while we have struggled to have certain minority members comply with mask-wearing and other simple health and safety directives.
“I was dismayed to learn today that the Republican caucus had a catered luncheon within the capitol on Monday, at which members did not wear masks, and gathered in a small space.
“In light of this and other refusals by House members to follow COVID-safe protocols and rules designed to protect members and staff, I am taking immediate steps within the House to protect the safety and health of staff and members. From this day forward, all committee rooms in the Capitol will be closed; all committee participation will be exclusively by Zoom, and members may not congregate in rooms to participate in committee meetings. Additionally, until further notice, the Floor of the House will be closed to all House members except the Majority Leader (or her designee), the Minority Leader (or his designee), and myself (or my designee as Speaker Pro Tempore).
“I strongly encourage all members to participate remotely, even if that means participation from their offices in the Capitol.
“I want to be clear, any individuals who contract the virus should not feel personally responsible. We need all members and staff to take these precautions seriously and to comply with existing and new health directives to keep everyone safe as we continue the people’s business.”
House Republican Leadership also released the following statement:
As we had predicted, requiring staff and legislators to convene, before the vaccine had a chance to be properly distributed, was a poor choice. The risks of COVID spread have clearly been present, now and when we discussed the format of the legislative session. House Republicans vehemently supported a delayed session to ensure safety and transparency. Our concern as we move forward is ensuring that, anyone who tests positive or has been exposed, returns to being healthy and safe. Our staff have chosen to stay home tomorrow, while Leadership discusses with the Department of Health on how to proceed moving forward to stop the exposure.“