COVID-19 reaches the Legislature as first person inside the building tests positive for the virus
An individual at the Legislature has tested positive for COVID-19, according to an email sent by Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Brenda Erdoes to lawmakers on Friday and obtained by The Nevada Independent.
The email did not specify who in the building tested positive for the virus, including whether the individual is a lawmaker, legislative staff member or member of the press. But it said the Department of Health and Human Services is doing contact tracing and will directly reach out to anyone who had significant contact.
“Even though the person is asymptomatic and feeling well, they will not be returning to the Legislative Building,” said the message, which emphasized that any legislator, staff members or member of the press felt uncomfortable, they would be allowed to work remotely and access information remotely.
Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, in a statement, said that they are continuing to monitor the situation and will "respond appropriately" as the session continues.
“LCB is taking every precaution to ensure the health and safety of legislators, staff, and members of the press in the legislative building,' they said. "Everyone in the building continues to follow the prescribed safety protocols issued by the CDC and DHHS, and we encourage all Nevadans to follow those guidelines during this difficult and unprecedented time."
Assembly Republican Leader Robin Titus, in a text message, said the situation was "unfortunate but not a surprise based on the number of community based tests we have been doing statewide and the number that are asymptomatic that test positive."
Republican Assemblyman Tom Roberts said the news "doesn't change a thing for me. I'm here to get work done." His colleague, Republican Assemblywoman Jill Tolles, said she was "glad we have taken so many precautions in the building and continue to do so."
The legislative building has been closed to members of the public, including lobbyists, for the duration of the special session because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Most people who are in the building have voluntarily taken a test for COVID-19 to determine if they are positive, the letter said.
The Legislature has taken numerous precautions to try to prevent the spread of coronavirus while scores of lawmakers, journalists and essential staff gather in the building in Carson City. Members of the National Guard set up a tent outside the building where entrants are screened for symptoms and subject to a temperature check.
Inside the building, staff installed plexiglass partitions in each chamber, mandated that those allowed into the building wear masks at all times and boosted their cleaning regimen. Lawmakers are required to wear facial coverings except when speaking into their microphones and have been asked to sit instead of standing when they speak.
In the Assembly, some lawmakers have been moved to the back rows typically reserved for members of the public to sit in order to better socially distance during proceedings.
Rules passed by lawmakers on the first day of the session clear the way for members to vote and participate remotely as a safety measure. Members of the Assembly also adopted rules requiring a face covering or mask. Those found to be violating the rule will be barred from voting or speaking while in legislative chambers, except to apologize or explain their actions.
The Assembly rules also set guidelines for people who are exposed to COVID-19. Members who are diagnosed with COVID-19 or quarantined after an exposure must immediately notify legislative leaders and leave the building.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.