2 more Idaho lawmakers test positive for COVID-19 in first week of legislative session

Darin Oswald/doswald@idahostatesman.com
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At least two more Idaho lawmakers tested positive for COVID-19 during the first week of the 2022 legislative session.

Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise, told the Idaho Statesman by phone Monday morning that he is isolating at home after receiving a positive test result last week. Winder said he has mild symptoms but was asymptomatic when he tested on Thursday.

“Probably another member of the House or Senate brought it with them from the break,” Winder said. “It was my turn, I guess.”

Rep. James Holtzclaw, R-Meridian, also said Monday that he tested positive for COVID-19 last week, Idaho Press reported. Two Boise Democrats, Rep. John Gannon and Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, announced in a news release that they tested positive after the first few days of the session.

Winder did not make a public announcement, but he told the Statesman that he notified Senate and House lawmakers as well as staff of his positive test. He tested on Thursday and found out he was positive around noon on Friday, he said.

Winder is among the majority of lawmakers who do not wear face coverings at the Capitol. Winder said he has worn masks “from time to time.”

“If I’m around other people that want to wear a mask, I’ll wear a mask,” he said. “But I’ve also been vaccinated and boosted and was told that was the protection I needed.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people who are fully vaccinated should wear a mask indoors in public if they are in an area of substantial or high transmission.

For the week of Jan. 2-8, Idaho reported 12,625 new cases of COVID-19. The actual number of cases is likely much higher, because the Department of Health and Welfare is reporting a backlog of around 20,200 cases that have yet to be entered into the official count, the Statesman previously reported. On Thursday, the state announced the test positivity rate had jumped to 25.7% early this month, breaking a record set in November 2020.

Idaho Legislature imposes no COVID-19 public health measures

Last year, the Legislature shut down for two weeks after a COVID-19 outbreak, when at least six lawmakers tested positive for the virus in one week. The shutdown cost taxpayers $318,000.

The Legislature has no requirements around mask wearing or COVID-19 testing. Optional testing is coordinated by the Legislative Services Office and administered by a Boise State University lab. The Legislative Services Office doesn’t track the number of positive tests, however, and it’s up to lawmakers to disclose whether they’ve tested positive, LSO Director Terri Kondeff told the Statesman.

Most legislators get tested when they have COVID-19 symptoms, Winder said, but he tests occasionally when asymptomatic, “because I’m around so many different people.”

Last year’s shutdown was in response to “a more deadly” strain of coronavirus, said Winder, signaling that another shutdown is unlikely. The omicron variant, the dominant strain at the moment, “has less impact and you get lighter symptoms,” Winder said.

Preliminary studies show that omicron may cause less severe illness compared with previous variants. But as with other coronavirus variants, the risk to individuals depends on their age, health and vaccination status.

“A lot of people have been vaccinated and boosted, and we’ll just have to see how it works out,” Winder said.

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