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Oregon House Speaker Cancels Legislative Sessions Because Somebody With COVID Walked Into the Chamber

In Idaho, the state legislative session is shut down after a COVID-19 outbreak sickened at least six lawmakers.

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) canceled legislative floor sessions for at least a week after learning a person who recently entered the House chamber tested positive for COVID-19.

Shortly after 2 pm on March 22, the Legislature's human resources director sent a mass email to lawmakers and staff, warning that an infected person had been inside the Capitol.

"We have been notified an individual who has been present at the Capitol has been diagnosed with COVID-19," interim HR director Jessica Knieling wrote. "We are notifying those individuals who appear to have had close contact with the individual."

Around the time of that email, Kotek canceled floor sessions, seeking to avert an outbreak among state lawmakers.

Kotek announced at 4 pm that the infected person was in the chamber on two days: March 15 and 16. Kotek's office says anyone on the House floor on March 15 and 16 should stay home until 10 days have passed. (Six days already have.)

"After consulting with Marion County Public Health, the Legislature has been advised that all symptom-free individuals who were on the House floor should quarantine for 10 days following the last exposure, which is through Friday, March 26," the speaker's office wrote. "The House will not return to floor session until Monday, March 29, at the earliest. Committee work, which is being done remotely, will continue as planned."

Kotek's spokesman Danny Moran says the House only expanded to multiple days of floor sessions this week in order to read bills into committee, after previously limiting in-person gatherings to one day a week.

House Minority Leader Christine Drazan (R-Canby) called Monday afternoon for lawmakers to go home for two weeks.

"There are several elected members from the House with underlying conditions who have not had the opportunity to vaccinate yet," Drazan said in a statement. "We all knew that this outcome was possible, which is why we have taken additional precautions since the start of this session to minimize risks for individuals who must be in the building."

In fact, Drazan's recommendation is the opposite of what Republicans in the Legislature's upper chamber, the Senate, have been demanding for weeks: a full reopening of the Capitol to the public, which would allow for in-person lobbying to resume. Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that Drazan sent a strongly worded letter to Kotek just this morning, demanding the reopening of the building.

Kotek and Drazan are now hoping Oregon can avoid the fate of Idaho, where the state legislative session is shut down after a COVID-19 outbreak sickened at least six lawmakers.