Rep. Christopher Kurka, R-Wasilla, seen here leaving the House chambers on Feb. 22, questioned masking rules on the floor of the House Monday and said there was political bias behind enforcement of rules. However, also on Monday two staff members tested positive for COVID-19 and 14 other people, including two House lawmakers, have gone into quarantine. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Rep. Christopher Kurka, R-Wasilla, seen here leaving the House chambers on Feb. 22, questioned masking rules on the floor of the House Monday and said there was political bias behind enforcement of rules. However, also on Monday two staff members tested positive for COVID-19 and 14 other people, including two House lawmakers, have gone into quarantine. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

New COVID-19 cases at the Capitol

Cluster emerges as some lawmakers balk at masking

Two additional legislative staffers at the Alaska State Capitol have tested positive for COVID-19, with additional close contacts identified and currently quarantining, according to the Legislative Affairs Agency.

In an email Tuesday, LAA Director Jessica Geary said the two staffers immediately went into quarantine and contract tracing is underway. There are 14 people quarantining due to those positive cases, Geary said. Two of those are members of the House of Representatives, she said, two were non-legislative staff and there are both House and Senate staff members in the cluster.

The two positive cases were Senate staff members, according to an email from Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna.

Senate staff member Konrad Jackson, who works in Micciche’s office, is currently hospitalized at Bartlett Regional Hospital. In a Facebook post Monday, Konrad said he was moved from the critical care unit to a more private room without the need for constant attention from medical staff.

[State Senate leaders accommodate member over virus rules]

The House and Senate Rules Committees dictate the health mitigation rules for their respective bodies, and so far, there will be no changes to the Senate’s mitigation rules, according to Daniel McDonald, spokesperson for the Senate Majority.

Lawmakers in both bodies have balked at health mitigation rules, mask-wearing in particular. Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, was given limited access to Capitol facilities last week after refusing to wear a rules-compliant face covering.

Reinbold had been wearing a clear face shield that doesn’t fully cover the mouth since January. She also has refused the regular testing and temperature checks everyone entering the Capitol are supposed to submit to, according to the Associated Press. An alternative workspace was set up in Reinbold’s office last week, allowing her to participate in her legislative duties remotely.

The issue came to a head when Senate staff members tested positive for COVID-19, Micciche told AP, and staff members had raised concerns about safety. On Monday, Reinbold was wearing her same face shield but modified to be in compliance with Senate rules.

In the House of Representatives, Rep. Christopher Kurka, R-Wasilla, was asked to leave the floor of the chamber after refusing to wear a mask. Kurka gave a speech on the floor criticizing the mask policy and said he believed punishments for rules violations were politically biased. Following counter-statements from fellow lawmakers in favor of masking, Kurka removed his mask and was then asked to leave.

Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok, tested positive for COVID-19 in February prompting the cancellation of House committee meetings. So far no Senate meetings or business had been canceled due to the positive cases, McDonald said. Alaska House Majority spokesperson Austin Baird also said no meetings had been canceled for House members.

Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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