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Utah Legislature to use COVID-19 rapid testing for lawmakers

October 23, 2020 GMT

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Lawmakers in Utah have added safety precautions in preparation to hold the 2021 Legislative session in-person, which is set to begin in January.

House of Representatives and Senate leaders plan to implement daily, rapid testing for lawmakers and staffers physically in the chambers during the 45-day session, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. The state Health Department would administer the tests.

Senate President Stuart Adams said there is still some concern despite adding plexiglass dividers between each desk. The Republican said lawmakers and staff will also have the option to work virtually.

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Studies show rapid DNA testing is not as accurate as standard COVID-19 tests, and can miss a high number of infections. However, when given day in and day out it can also help prevent large outbreaks.

Lawmakers have held four special sessions since the regular session ended in March, including two almost entirely virtual and another with mixed attendance online and in-person.

Legislative leaders and staffers have suggested other alternatives for the upcoming session including relocating to a larger venue where social distancing could be enforced or replicating the NBA and its so-called bubble that would isolate legislators in the same place to minimize public exposure.

Currently, construction is underway on four new committee rooms at the state Capitol building that will be as large as the biggest hearing room in the House office building, allowing lawmakers and the public to effectively social distance. None of the smaller rooms are scheduled to be used during the session.

Legislative leaders are also urging lawmakers to get their proposed legislation drafted to avoid a last-minute crunch, officials said. The session could also start earlier if voters approve an amendment that would allow legislators to move the start date from the fourth Monday of January to any day that month. A companion bill passed earlier this year sets next year’s start date as Jan. 17.

Officials still have yet to consider the reporters, lobbyists and residents who attend the session, and are working on solutions with the Utah Highway Patrol, which is responsible for security.

Studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.