IOWA LEGISLATURE

Person tests positive after visiting Iowa Capitol

The State Capitol building is shown in Des Moines. (The Gazette)
The State Capitol building is shown in Des Moines. (The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Five days into the Iowa legislative session lawmakers and staff have been alerted that someone “associated” with the House has tested positive for COVID-19.

Chief Clerk of the House Meghan Nelson and Secretary of the Senate Charlie Smithson sent messages to lawmakers and staff shortly after 6 p.m. Friday alerting them that someone who had been in the Capitol Wednesday tested positive earlier in the day.

The person, who, in accordance with House and Senate protocols was not identified, reported wearing a face covering, Nelson said. Those protocols do not require that legislators or staff self-report if they tests positive.

The chief clerk is working with the individual to notify anyone they may have come in close contact with, said Melissa Deatsch, spokeswoman for House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford. Citing the Legislature’s COVID-19 protocols, she did not confirm whether the person is a legislator.

Face covering are not required in the Capitol. Leaders in the GOP-controlled House and Senate say they cannot enforce a mask mandate, but have said they “strongly urge” people to wear masks while at the Capitol.

Monday, the opening day of the session, hundreds of people opposed to wearing masks rallied in the Capitol.

House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, is hoping for a quick recovery for the person, but was not surprised by the positive test.

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“Given the high number of COVID-19 cases across Iowa, it is disappointing but not surprising that the first week of session would end with a positive COVID case,” he said.

In light of the positive test, Prichard said, “it’s more important than ever that we follow — not ignore — the advice of public health officials and remain vigilant about mask-wearing and social distancing.”

“I’m hopeful we can work with the speaker’s office to find additional ways to limit exposure in the weeks ahead and keep Iowans safe,” he said.

The lack of a mask mandate created divisions even before the session started. In the House, Democrats have asked that people attending committee meetings in person be required to wear masks. Those proposals have been defeated largely on party line votes.

Democrats also have criticized Republicans for not delaying the 2021 session until more Iowans receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

According to Nelson, “appropriate” cleaning measures will be taken over the weekend. Contact tracing will be completed by the appropriate public health agency.

Lawmakers will not be in session Monday due to it being the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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