Members of the Alaska House of Representatives gather for a Finance Committee meeting on Monday, March 1, 2021 even after a staff member had tested positive for COVID-19. Meetings were canceled last week after Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok, tested positive. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Members of the Alaska House of Representatives gather for a Finance Committee meeting on Monday, March 1, 2021 even after a staff member had tested positive for COVID-19. Meetings were canceled last week after Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok, tested positive. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Work continues even with new cases at the Capitol

Another staff member tested positive

Business continued at the Alaska State Capitol Monday even as additional positive cases of COVID-19 were identified among lawmakers and staff.

Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok, tested positive for COVID-19 on Feb. 24, prompting the cancellations of House floor sessions and meetings last week. In an email to lawmakers, Legislative Affairs Agency Executive Director Jessica Geary said 15 people had been identified as close contacts and were currently quarantining. Two of those people tested positive Monday, Geary said.

Additionally, a House staff member present in the audience for a House Finance Committee meeting Monday morning prior to their testing also tested positive. Those entering the Capitol must be tested every five days, and may re-enter the capitol without being tested as long as they fall within that window.

“This individual is quarantining and interviews are being conducted to identify close contacts,” Geary said. “It is unknown at this time whether this case is related to the other positive cases.”

Despite the positive cases, House members continued with their scheduled meetings, including another Finance Committee meeting in the same room.

Those in quarantine who remain symptom-free will test on day seven and, if negative, Public Health will authorize release from quarantine on day eight, according to Geary.

There were a few empty seats in the Alaska House of Representatives for Monday’s floor session, but the body has a full week of meetings scheduled, including several meetings scheduled for Saturday. After taking a month to organize, Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, said House members would be working overtime to address legislative work.

Absent from the House Monday were Cronk and Reps. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau; Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, Grier Hopkins, D-Fairbanks, Josiah Patkotak, I-Utqiagvik; Mike Prax, R-North Pole; Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, and Ron Guillam, R-Kenai.

Meetings are not typically scheduled for Saturdays, and members often return to their home districts for weekends. But Stutes sent a letter to House members last week asking them to remain in the Juneau area until further notice.

Despite the disruption in the House, the Senate has proceeded in a fairly normal fashion. In an email to lawmakers, Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said the utmost precautions were being taken and many senators and staff were being tested more than was required.

“We are committed to getting the people’s work done on time,” Micciche said. “Come hell or high water, we are going to safely resolve the big issues facing Alaskans.”

The Senate passed a resolution that would allow lawmakers to work remotely, even for floor sessions, pending the approval of the presiding officer. But the resolution still needs to pass the House that has faced repeated delays.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy also tested positive for coronavirus last week and has been quarantining at his home, according to his office. Department of Health and Social Services spokesperson Clinton Bennett said in an email Monday Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said the governor continues to recover at home and is doing well.

“Specific medications and treatments are between him and his personal physician. He appreciates the well wishes and we look forward to a speedy recovery,” Zink said.

Coronavirus cases have been dropping locally and statewide but Alaska as a whole remains on high alert under DHSS’s monitoring system. In Juneau, cases have been trending down — the city’s own health alert is “minimal” — and the city has been running vaccine clinics. The next local clinic is scheduled for March 12-13.

The City and Borough of Juneau does not include cases associated the Alaska Legislature in its daily case counts, public information officer Lisa Phu said in an email. The city reports Juneau residents and non-Alaska residents in Juneau, she said, and DHSS records a person’s permanent address as the location of the case.

Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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