Amid a massive surge of COVID-19 during the holiday season that pushed daily virus deaths this week beyond the total death toll from the September 11 terrorist attacks, lawmakers tasked with keeping their states afloat were getting sicker and sicker from the pandemic.
Lawmakers and staff were sickened – and one even died – in state capitals this week of North Dakota, South Dakota, New Hampshire and Indiana. In some cases, they may have felt compelled to continue working as a public health crisis ravaged their area.
In others, it was hard not to wonder what they were thinking.
North Dakota State Senator Ray Holmberg said he was feeling “very tired” Thursday after contracting COVID-19 during a legislative pre-session last week. The 76-year-old Republican had not yet developed a fever, he said.
Discordantly, Holmberg told the Daily Beast he felt severely fatigued over the weekend, tested for the virus on Monday and received his results on Tuesday – the same day he attended a lunch meeting with d other North Dakota state legislators and the president of the University of North Dakota.
“Looking back, should I have left?” Probably not, ”Holmberg told The Daily Beast. “But it happened, and I’m not going to deny the obvious. When I received my diagnosis later, I informed the president’s office.
Three other employees of the legislature’s research agency have also tested positive this week and, like Holmberg, are recovering at home. Holmberg was due to receive a plasma infusion on Thursday afternoon, he said. The Bismarck Tribune.
David Dodds, a spokesperson for the university, confirmed to the Daily Beast that the President of the University of North Dakota, Andrew Armacost, attended a luncheon “attended by many other North Dakota were in attendance, including Senator Ray Holmberg ”.
Holmberg argued that the event consisted of “eight people in a large hall” where everyone maintained social distancing. The lawmaker added that although there was no handshake and masks were used, he sat “on the kitty corner” of Armacost – and they took off their covers -chiefs when they ate.
Dodds added: “President Armacost, who had previously recovered from his own fight with COVID-19, chose to sit at the opposite end of a table occupied by Senator Holmberg. Dobbs did not comment when asked if the university president was following CDC guidelines to self-isolate after apparent exposure to COVID-19.
The 2021 state legislative session meets next month for up to 80 days, and North Dakota state representative Karla Rose Hanson told the Daily Beast that she was concerned about the health of his colleagues, “especially those with underlying illnesses.
To date, 1,103 people have died and 86,707 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in North Dakota, according to the state’s health department. Health experts are worried about the state’s trajectory of 762,062, however, especially since Peace Garden state has a test positivity rate of nearly 24%. (Most experts say 5% is too high.)
“The news of several positive cases resulting from last week’s meeting should highlight the importance of consistently wearing masks and staying home when sick,” Hanson added.
State Representative Corey Mock, a Democrat who remotely attended Tuesday’s lunch, said he was “not particularly” surprised to hear infections resulting from the legislative session.
“It seemed likely that someone would be exposed to the virus with a relatively large number of people from across the state coming together [a] shared workspace, ”he told the Daily Beast, saying he wished Holmberg a quick recovery. “Many members chose not to wear face coverings on the first day; others followed the rules loosely or selectively for the rest of the week. “
Mock noted that in addition to Holmberg and the UND chairman, other lawmakers who attended the lunch included Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski, City Administrator Todd Feland, House CEO Barry Wilfahrt and Representative Mary Adams.
The other four did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Daily Beast.
Even as he acknowledged his own faux pas in the pandemic on Thursday, Holmberg told the Daily Beast: “There are still some who see this as the bane that it can be.”
Indeed, this contempt was evident from the number of lawmakers who were apparently planning in-person parties and fundraisers during the holiday season, as well as other social events.
A large Arizona rally with Rudy Giuliani sent scores of local lawmakers to quarantine after Trump’s personal lawyer tested positive for COVID-19. The event, where a dozen current and former Arizona Republican lawmakers heard testimony from residents dubiously claiming election fraud, was largely unmasked and flouted social distancing guidelines.
A dinner at the mansion of South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, who hosted a concert in October, saw at least one attendee – Senator Helene Duhamel, 58, tested positive for the virus this week.
In Indiana, Speaker of the House Todd Huston tested positive for the virus on Wednesday and was in quarantine at home with mild symptoms, reported Indianapolis Star. The Republican had not visited the Statehouse in the past seven days and had not had recent contact with members of parliament or staff, a spokesperson told the Daily Beast.
“The pandemic has impacted Hoosiers and their families across our state, particularly in the recent outbreak of cases,” Huston said in a statement. “I will continue to quarantine the home and take all necessary precautions. I can’t wait to get back to work when it’s safe to do so. “
Huston’s spokesperson did not respond to follow-up questions from The Daily Beast about how Huston contracted the virus.
In New Hampshire, Representative Dick Hinch – who was sworn in as Speaker of the House last week – died on Wednesday. State Attorney General Gordan MacDonald announced the results of the autopsy of Hinch, who noted COVID-19 as the cause of death. The 71-year-old US Navy veteran was entering his seventh term, local reports said.
The legislature swearing-in ceremony caused a stir last week, with many Democrats refusing to attend what they saw as poor COVID-19 security precautions for the 400-member House and Senate. 24 members. The ceremony was held outdoors and remotely, but several Republican lawmakers contracted the virus during an indoor Republican caucus meeting on Nov. 20, at which many attendees were maskless, Boston.com reported.
The states Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley offered his condolences, as did Democratic House Leader Renny Cushing, who said in a statement to the Daily Beast that “it was an honor to serve with” Hinch.
State Senate President Chuck Morse, a fellow Republican, said Thursday that Hinch was one of his “best friends” and that he was heartbroken at the news of his passing.
“Dick was a really kind and humble man,” Morse said. “We couldn’t wait to serve together because we had so many plans.”
With the pandemic surging across the country, it was inevitable that the epidemics, which plagued governors and White House insiders – not to mention the President of the United States – would reach lesser-known lawmakers. Still, the large number of cases following Thanksgiving, which experts predicted would fuel the coronavirus blaze, appeared to be at a particularly sharp tipping point in the heart of the country.
As for North Dakota Rep. Corey Mock, he thinks “this is our wake-up call.”
He added, “I just hope people are listening.”
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