IOWA LEGISLATURE

Second virus case confirmed at Iowa Capitol amid mask debate

The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (The Gazette)
The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (The Gazette)

DES MOINES — An announcement of a second positive case of coronavirus at the Iowa Capitol on Thursday again raised the issue of safety in the building.

Iowa House Chief Clerk Meghan Nelson said in a statement to lawmakers that someone associated with the House tested positive Wednesday. The person was last in the building Friday and reported wearing a face covering at all times.

It is the second known positive coronavirus case in the building since the beginning of the legislative session more than two weeks ago.

Democrats have complained daily that Republican leaders refuse to initiate a mask mandate at the Iowa Capitol, and last week a labor union representing state workers filed a complaint with the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration, arguing that a lack of a mask mandate threatens the safety of everyone who enters the building.

On Wednesday OSHA inspectors were in the building investigating.

House Speaker Pat Grassley has said he cannot enforce a mask mandate and he is not willing to have lawmakers removed if they refuse to comply.

He said Thursday that most people wear masks on the House side and meetings are arranged with social distancing in mind.

“I think that we have done what we need to do to make sure this is a safe work environment but also maintaining a level of transparency,” he said.

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Senate Democrats are largely staying away from the Capitol unless they must be there, working remotely most of the time. Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver allows electronic participation in committee meetings, but Grassley requires lawmakers and the public to be present in the Capitol to speak on a bill in committee.

Many Republican lawmakers still choose not to wear a mask, which has drawn harsh criticism from Democrats.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom on the third day of the session called Republican leaders reckless and asked, “Are you trying to kill us all?”

Rep. Bruce Hunter criticized Republicans on Wednesday evening after debate on an abortion bill ended for pushing through divisive measures on guns, abortion and education instead of focusing on measures to help control the virus spread, boost testing and vaccinate Iowans.

“Your reaction to the coronavirus pandemic from the very beginning has actually been one of inaction in the name of freedom and personal responsibility,” he said.

Polk County, where the Capitol is located, currently reports a 14-day average positivity rate of 12 percent, which indicates a significant level of community spread still is occurring.

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