BOISE — A second Idaho state senator has tested positive for COVID-19, Senate President Pro-Tem Chuck Winder confirmed on Tuesday.
A memo sent to staffers on Monday said one senator tested positive over the weekend. A second senator tested positive Monday night, Winder said in a phone call Tuesday. He said the two senators were believed to have been exposed to each other.
The Monday memo from Jennifer Novak, secretary of the Senate, said the first senator who tested positive was last at the Capitol on Friday and worked primarily in the Senate chairman’s suite. The senator tested positive over the weekend, the memo said. It did not disclose the senator’s identity.
Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, told the Idaho Press he tested positive on Monday after he had been at the Capitol.
Sen. Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, was absent at the Capitol on Monday and appointed former Sen. Jeff Siddoway to fill in for him indefinitely. The Statesman couldn’t reach Bair or Burtenshaw, and Winder would not confirm the two senators’ identities.
“This news is a great reminder of the importance for all of us to be safe and practice techniques that we have been taught during this pandemic,” Novak wrote in the Monday memo. “We will continue to work hard to keep the committees staffed and Senate offices supported.”
The two senators are the first publicly known cases of COVID-19 among Idaho state legislators. Winder said one senator has minor symptoms, while the other has more moderate symptoms such as congestion and a cough. He said he doesn’t know how many other senators could have been potentially exposed, but one senator had been in contact with several legislators Monday morning who were wearing masks.
“We don’t think it’s a big issue, but we are monitoring that and we are having daily testing,” Winder said.
Idaho Capitol’s COVID-19 protocols
The new reported cases at the Capitol followed news late Thursday that two legislative staffers tested positive for the coronavirus. Both staffers remained in isolation as of Monday, said Olivia Heersink, spokesperson for the Idaho House and Senate Democrats.
Neither of the staffers exposed each other, nor did they expose the senator who tested positive, Heersink said Monday. She confirmed that no legislators in the Democratic Party — most of whom took advantage of additional testing offered Friday and Monday — have tested positive so far.
Two staffers, one in the House and one in the Senate, have also previously tested positive.
Winder has said he gets tested for COVID-19 weekly, and that 155 tests were given to staff and members with no positive cases in the first week of the legislative session. But protocols haven’t changed after news that two senators tested positive, Winder said.
Winder said he’s encouraged senators to social distance, use hand sanitizer and stay home when feeling sick or when having knowingly been exposed to the coronavirus. Masks are not mandated at the Capitol but are encouraged.
“The fact no one’s tested positive I think is an indication that we haven’t had a problem,” Winder said in an interview earlier this month.
Winder on Tuesday said some legislators didn’t want stricter protocols around masks. Some believed they got COVID-19 over the summer or fall and felt like a mandate would be unnecessary, he said.
“In hindsight, I think we did what we could do,” Winder said Tuesday. “We talked about mandatory masks, that type of thing, but people didn’t want to do that.”