Legislator tests positive for coronavirus within Capitol
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The Democratic speaker of the state House is restricting access by lawmakers to the House floor and closing off conference rooms after the disclosure that a Republican legislator tested positive for COVID-19, along with several earlier positive tests among legislative staff.
Speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe said Friday that he will begin restricting in-person access to House floor sessions to himself and one additional person from each political party, along with a handful of crucial clerical and technology staff.
That would establish almost entirely online participation in House committee hearings and floor debates. The Capitol is closed to the public.
Egolf said legislators must forge ahead under the new safety precautions.
“We have got to deliver COVID-related relief to the people of New Mexico,” he said. “There is no need to delay the session.”
Republican House Minority Leader Jim Townsend said the male lawmaker who tested positive is asymptomatic and doing fine. The legislator’s name has not been made public.
The Senate devises its own participation rules and pandemic precautions. It is holding committee meetings by video conference while convening occasional floor sessions with in-person attendance or the option of participating online from an office within the state Capitol complex.
Three people tested positive for the coronavirus at a pop-up testing site in the Capitol building since Jan. 21, the third day of a 60-day legislative session, Egolf said. Another legislative employee tested positive at an off-site clinic Jan. 18, and two Capitol security personnel on patrol outside the building tested positive several days before the session.
House Republican minority caucus spokesman Matthew Garcia-Sierra said the infected GOP legislator quickly disclosed the positive test on Thursday, leading to new revelations about cases.
“If we hadn’t been open and honest with the media and the public about this, no one would have known that there were positive cases,” he said.
Egolf said he is closing off conference rooms in the Capitol after observing nonchalant attitudes toward limits on gatherings and face masks. “What I have observed is that certain members of the Republican Party do not adhere to COVID practices in any meaningful way,” he said.
Garcia-Sierra said Republican House legislators are actively responding to the Capitol outbreak, with staff working remotely on Friday amid contact tracing and at least one legislator in self-quarantine because of possible exposure.
Administrators decided before the session began to require everyone but lawmakers to receive weekly COVID-19 tests before being admitted into the building, including staff and members of the media.
The next Senate floor session in the Capitol is scheduled for Monday. The next House floor session is scheduled for Tuesday.
State health officials say nearly 1,200 virus tests have been conducted at the Capitol with three positive cases.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday extended a public health emergency order without changes to the state’s color-coded, county-by-county reopening criteria.
A statewide mask mandate remains in place with tight restrictions on restaurant dining and nonessential business across most of the state.
State health officials reported 1,085 new positive daily tests for the coronavirus on Friday, with 22 related deaths. That raises the statewide pandemic death tally to 3,248.