Colorado lawmakers are contending with a mass coronavirus exposure scare at the Capitol on the first day of the state’s special legislative session to address the economic effects of the pandemic.
House Speaker KC Becker, a Boulder Democrat, said a Republican staffer in the House was on the chamber’s floor Monday morning despite testing positive for COVID-19 last week.
“The staffer has been sent home and is not permitted to return through the special session until she tests negative,” Becker said in a written statement. “This was a reckless breach of the House’s safety protocols, and it will not be tolerated.”
But Rep. Hugh McKean, the incoming House Republican leader, said the woman actually tested positive on Nov. 17 and that she was given permission from a doctor to return to work on Nov. 24.
“These concerns arose after a Facebook post that mentioned the positive test,” McKean’s statement said. “The statement that this individual tested positive last week is in error. There should be minimal concern about their condition.”
McKean said the staffer was “asked to work remotely,” nevertheless, because of concerns over her earlier test result.
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Becker, in her statement, blasted Republicans for the exposure and said the staffer’s presence “has placed the health of every lawmaker and member of staff at risk as we meet to pass critical legislation to help Coloradans get through this crisis.”
“Republicans in the House must put the people of Colorado first and follow the House’s common-sense safety protocols,” her statement said.
McKean, in a speech on the House floor Monday night, said the staffer acted responsibly and did the right thing, notifying her colleagues when she fell ill and consulting with a doctor on when it was safe to return to the Capitol. He said she has been battling cancer for years and would never want to expose others to a disease.
McKean asked Becker for an apology, which she did not provide.
CDPHE will conduct contact tracing, Becker said in an email to her colleagues. A source says the staffer mostly stayed on the Republican side of the House chambers.
Rep. Patrick Neville, the outgoing Republican leader, said he wasn’t at the Capitol on Monday and had no additional information.
Monday was the first day of the special legislative session. It comes as coronavirus is raging in Colorado and an estimated 1 in 40 people are actively contagious with the disease.
Lawmakers, however, felt it was critical that they return to the Capitol to pass $200-plus million in relief for people who are increasingly feeling the economic effects of the pandemic.
While some Republicans were wearing masks at the Capitol on Monday, others were not. Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, was photographed wearing a mask on the crown of his head, apparently in jest.
Lawmakers were asked to be tested before the lawmaking term and have access to rapid testing at the Capitol each day. Capitol visitors have their temperatures screened and are asked questions about potential COVID-19 symptoms before entering the building.
Many lawmakers, including those who are older or who have preexisting conditions, are opting to stay away from the Capitol as much as possible to avoid exposure. The legislature has increased remote participation to accommodate them.
On Saturday night, Gov. Jared Polis announced that he and his partner, Marlon Reis, tested positive for COVID-19.
Updated at 9:22 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020: This story has been updated to correct the spelling and title of state Rep. Larry Liston in a photo caption.