Fifth positive coronavirus case identified at Iowa Capitol

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A fifth person working at the Iowa Capitol tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday.

Iowa House Chief Clerk Meghan Nelson said the individual was last in the building on Thursday and had worn a face covering at all times. The identity of positive cases is not routinely released by legislative branch officials, and Republican leaders have not required lawmakers to reveal a positive virus test so it’s not known if there have been undeclared cases.

Two cases were reported Saturday and Rep. Amy Nielsen of North Liberty confirmed she was one of them, marking the first known case of an Iowa lawmaker contracting the virus during the legislative session. She said she believes she was infected at the Capitol.

Republican leaders have not approved a mask mandate, and House Speaker Pat Grassley requires House members to vote on bills and attend committee meetings in person to speak. Senate rules allow members to attend committees remotely.

Nielsen said she was exposed to people not wearing a mask prior to her positive test. Those people included Grassley, who called her to the speaker’s desk during debate last week and declined to wear a mask.

Grassley spokeswoman Melissa Deatsch said in a statement Monday that Grassley “continues to wear his mask when he cannot practice social distancing and strongly encourages his colleagues do the same.”

No changes in protocol have been announced although all of the publicly announced virus cases have been on the House side of the building.

Deatsch said mask wearing is followed by about 95% of people in House-controlled spaces.

Nielsen, who said she wore a mask when in the building, said she had to tell a House member and a guest last week to move away from her desk as they held a conversation near her without masks.

The union representing state workers has filed a complaint with the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration claiming the majority leaders’ policies create an unsafe workplace. Inspectors were in the building last week.

Danny Homan, president of the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees that represents some state workers said Republican leadership needs to recognize that the pandemic is far from over.

“It’s time for them to change their position and put stronger restrictions in place before even more people get sick,” he said.

Iowa reported 13 additional deaths on Tuesday, increasing the state total to 4,919. The state’s death count is the nation’s 16th highest per capita, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

Iowa’s one-dose vaccination rate is the third lowest among states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency said Iowa has delivered one vaccine to 6,149 per 100,000 people, which is better than only Idaho and Missouri.