House Of Delegates Employee Who Attended Monday Health Meeting Tests Positive For Coronavirus
Staff for the West Virginia House of Delegates are advising lawmakers who were in Charleston Monday to quarantine if they were in contact with the clerk’s office where an employee has tested positive for the coronavirus.
There were at least 13 delegates at the Capitol Monday for a House Health and Human Resources meeting. Some of the state’s top health leaders – including coronavirus czar Clay Marsh, newly appointed public health officer Ayne Amjad, and Major Gen. James Hoyer of the West Virginia National Guard – also were in attendance.
Although all employees were wearing face masks and social-distancing, a news release from House Speaker Roger Hanshaw (R-Clay) Thursday asked attendees and delegates who were in contact with staff to quarantine and seek testing.
“We are saddened to learn this virus has now afflicted someone in our House family,” said Hanshaw in a news release issued Thursday. “We take this matter very seriously. We have closed our clerk’s office until it can be thoroughly sanitized and are encouraging all who may have come into contact with that office or its staff to quarantine and be tested.”
Marsh said he’s waiting to hear from the local health department about what happens next, and whether he needs to seek testing or quarantine.
“For me, I didn’t really have extended contact with any specific person,” Marsh said. “But if there a concern I’ll wait for the appropriate time and I’ll get tested. … I’ll be part of the same requirements that we’ve suggested that other people do. So, I will be very cognizant about not contacting other people.”
Del. Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, told WVPB Thursday evening he also is waiting to hear from the local health department.
“I think any risk or danger to the members who were there was pretty well mitigated,” Bates said. He added that the recommendations listed in a news release from the House to quarantine were “a good understanding of protocol,” but also issued “out of an abundance of caution.”
He added: “The meeting was held in the chamber, and everyone was appropriately distanced. And the vast majority of individuals were wearing face coverings, and there was limited contact between everybody there in particular.”
Most delegates, Republicans and Democrats, wore face masks to Monday’s meeting. Pictures from legislative photographers show at least three delegates not wearing face coverings. Those included: Del. Evan Worrell, R-Cabell, Del. Mark Dean, R-Mingo, and Del. Marshall Wilson, I-Berkeley.
Wilson declined to comment.
“I’m pretty calm about stuff. I don’t overreact. I’m a pretty healthy guy,” Dean told WVPB Thursday. Dean said he didn’t think the mask was necessary Monday, since everyone was already social-distancing.
A school principal, Dean said he doesn’t have to worry about wearing a mask over the summer for work, since school’s out. He said he tries to visit businesses that don’t require a mask, but if he’s at a business where masks are required, he complies.
“I’m just not comfortable wearing the mask,” Dean said. He declined to say why.
“I’m not in contact with anyone who’s compromised,” he added. “If we were with those people, I’m sure that I would wear a mask way more. I would wear mine if my lifestyle interacted with people who need me to.”
Worrell said he wasn’t wearing a mask because he maintained more than six feet of distance from other delegates and had no close contact with anyone else in attendance.
“I don’t have a problem with anyone who wears a mask, and I don’t have a problem with anyone who doesn’t wear a mask,” Worrell said Thursday. He said when he’s out and about in his community, getting his hair cut or attending a local fire department meeting, he will wear a mask indoors.
Coronavirus czar Marsh said he and other public health experts still encourage people to wear masks indoors.
"I don’t want anyone else to test positive,” Marsh said Thursday. “But I hope this does, you know, really encourage people who didn’t wear a mask to reconsider.”
House leadership has arranged for testing to be available to staff and others who may have had exposure to the Clerk’s Office. That testing will take place Friday morning at the Capitol complex.
Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.