2nd coronavirus case confirmed at Iowa Capitol amid debate over requiring masks

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Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, right, switches seats with Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, left, as he departs during a Senate Finance Committee hearing to examine the expected nomination of Janet Yellen to be Secretary of the Treasury on Jan. 19, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images)

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, right, switches seats with Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, left, as he departs during a Senate Finance Committee hearing to examine the expected nomination of Janet Yellen to be Secretary of the Treasury on
Jan. 19, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images)

A announcement of a second positive case of coronavirus at the Iowa Capitol on Thursday again raised the issue of safety in the building.

Iowa House Chief Clerk Meghan Nelson said in a statement to lawmakers that someone associated with the House tested positive on Wednesday. The individual was last in the building on Friday and reported wearing a face covering at all times.

It is the second known positive coronavirus case in the building since the beginning of the legislative session more than two weeks ago.

Democrats have complained daily that Republican leaders refuse to initiate a mask mandate at the Iowa Capitol and last week a labor union representing state workers filed a complaint with the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration, arguing that a lack of a mask mandate threatens the safety of everyone who enters the building.

On Wednesday OSHA inspectors were in the building investigating.

House Speaker Pat Grassley has said he cannot enforce a mask mandate and he is not willing to have lawmakers removed if they refuse to comply.

He said Thursday that most people wear masks on the House side and meetings are arranged with social distancing in mind.

“I think that we have done what we need to do to make sure this is a safe work environment but also maintaining a level of transparency,” he said.

Senate Democrats are largely staying away from the Capitol unless they must be there, working remotely most of the time. Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver allows electronic participation in committee meetings but Grassley requires lawmakers and the public to be present in the Capitol to speak on a bill in committee.

Many Republican lawmakers still choose not to wear a mask which has drawn harsh criticism from Democrats.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom on the third day of the session called Republican leaders reckless and asked, “Are you trying to kill us all?”

Rep. Bruce Hunter criticized Republicans Wednesday evening after debate on an abortion bill ended for pushing through divisive measures on guns, abortion and education instead of focusing on measures to help control the virus spread, boost testing and vaccinate Iowans.

“Your reaction to the coronavirus pandemic from the very beginning has actually been one of inaction in the name of freedom and personal responsibility,” he said.

Iowa public health officials reported 32 additional deaths on Thursday increasing the state total to 4,532. An additional 1,266 positive cases also were reported.

Polk County, where the Capitol is located, currently reports a 14-day average positivity rate of 12%, which indicates a significant level of community spread is still occurring.

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