Capital Clicks

More COVID-19 cases at the Iowa Capitol as legislative leaders decline to increase precautions

By: - February 1, 2021 2:14 pm

The Iowa State Capitol (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Four people at the Iowa Capitol reported testing positive for the coronavirus since the legislative session began, including two additional cases which were announced over the weekend.

Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty, confirmed to multiple news outlets that she was one of the two new cases announced Saturday. 

Capitol staff and legislators are not required to announce if they test positive for COVID-19. Nielsen is the first lawmaker to openly report that she contracted the virus since session began Jan. 11. 

Lawmakers must be present at the Capitol to vote and to participate in floor debates and committee meetings. In the House of Representatives, only those lawmakers and members of the public who attend in person may speak about the bills during subcommittee meetings; others may submit comments in writing.

Early in the session, House Democrats called for a mask mandate which would require every individual in the Capitol to wear a face covering, unless they had a doctor’s note. Republicans, who hold a majority in the House, voted against the measure.

“And so as I’m reading it now, this proposed rule would certainly … stifle the transmission of smiles, stifle the transmission of joy, the transmission of brotherly love, would absolutely disrupt members’ ability to create genuine human connection among all colleagues,” Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Fairfield, said during a Jan. 21 debate. 

That same day, the Des Moines Register reported that several labor groups filed a complaint with Iowa OSHA, alleging that the Capitol was an unsafe working environment. 

 House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, argued that a mask mandate would be unenforceable among lawmakers. He told reporters Thursday that he did not anticipate any changes to the current COVID-19 precautions following a visit from OSHA inspectors. 

“I think we have done what we need to do to make sure this is a safe work environment … I feel confident in the decisions that we’ve made,” he said.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.