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.

More in News

Alaska Department of Fish and Game logo. (Graphic by Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Board of Fisheries approves Kenai River king salmon action plan

The plan adds bait restrictions for in-river fisheries, doubles the sport bag limit for sockeye salmon, and adds a swath of restrictions to the commercial setnet fishery

The Kenai Municipal Airport is seen on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
New Grant Aviation planes to double service’s flight capacity

The first of two Cessna 208B EX Grand Caravans will start transporting passengers on Monday

Stickers are available for voters at the Kenai No. 1 precinct for Election Day on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna to hold ‘I Voted’ sticker design contest

City council members approved the program during their Wednesday night meeting

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks in support of a bill increasing state funds for public education in the Alaska House of Representatives on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Bill seeking to bump use of Alaska Performance Scholarship clears the House with unanimous support

The money is awarded to high-performing high school graduates to help pay for postsecondary education at participating institutions in Alaska

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner Ryan Anderson answers questions from state senators during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
State officials working to meet Friday deadline for revised transportation plan

The federal government rejected the plan on Feb. 9, citing numerous deficiencies

Travis Every, top left, speaks in support of fishing opportunity for the east side setnet fishery before the State Board of Fisheries at the Egan Convention Center in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Local fishers talk conservation, opportunity before Board of Fisheries in Anchorage

Local fishers from the Kenai Peninsula traveled to Anchorage this weekend to… Continue reading

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, presents information on a bill establishing a voluntary buyback program for Cook Inlet’s east side setnet fishery on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Bjorkman bill would pay bonuses to nationally certified teachers

The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development estimates that the bonus program would apply to about 215 of Alaska’s estimated 7,315 teachers — about 3%

Alaska senators meet with members of the media to discuss education legislation after a press conference by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on the topic on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Dunleavy threatens veto of education bill if more of his priorities aren’t added

It is not certain there would be the 40 votes necessary to override a veto by the governor

A map displays a wide-ranging special weather statement, published Tuesday by the National Weather Service, covering Southcentral Alaska. (Map courtesy of National Weather Service)
Strong winds, low wind chills forecast through Friday

Wind chills over night may reach as low as -20 to -40 degrees in much of Southcentral

Most Read