PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Floor sessions in the Oregon Capitol were cancelled for the rest of the day Monday and all day Tuesday after lawmakers learned that “someone who was interacting on the House floor last week” has tested positive for COVID-19.
House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, who said she was notified about the situation while on the floor Monday, did not say if the person who tested positive was a lawmaker or staff.
“In an abundance of caution we did not want to be on the floor for all the time we had planned tonight and tomorrow,” Kotek said.
The House of Representatives was scheduled be on the floor for a total of about 10 hours Monday and Tuesday.
Kotek said the Legislature is following public health protocols and it is still being determined if they will return to the Capitol Wednesday morning.
“I think this is the second time we have had this happen — there was a staff person last year — so this is not unusual,” Kotek said.
The Capitol building has been closed to the public since March as part of a COVID-19 safety measure. Only authorized personnel, which includes lawmakers, staff, police and reporters have access to the building.
Although committee meetings take place virtually, lawmakers need to meet in person to vote on bills.
Kotek said many lawmakers have not yet received the COVID-19 vaccine because essential workers are not eligible until April 19.
“What I am most nervous about is keeping people safe,” Kotek said Monday while discussing the current session. “The pandemic might be moving in the right direction, but there are new variants coming.”
The Oregon Health Authority reported 178 new and confirmed COVID-19 cases on Monday, bringing the state total since the start of the pandemic to 161,706. The death toll is 2,365.
Throughout the past year, lawmakers have closely tracked COVID-19 cases, and expressed concerns about a possible outbreak in the Capitol, much like the one occurring in the neighboring state of Idaho.
On Friday the Idaho Legislature voted to shut down for several weeks due to an outbreak of COVID-19.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate made the move to recess until April 6 with significant unfinished business, including setting budgets and pushing through a huge income tax cut.
At least six of the 70 House members in Idaho tested positive for the illness in the last week.
Cline is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.