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Coronavirus cases emerge at Roundhouse

Reprsentatives talk on the House floor after a limited session at the State Capitol Thursday, January 28, 2021. The 2021 legislature continues at the Roundhouse but the public is not allowed in the building and floor sessions are happening only occasionally. Most democrats are participating remotely while most republicans are on the floor. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Five coronavirus cases surfaced at the Capitol over the last week – at least one of whom is a Republican lawmaker in the House, a spokesman for the House Republican caucus said Thursday.

Matt Garcia-Sierra, a spokesman for GOP members of the House, said that Republican leaders are speaking with the state Department of Health about how to proceed and that their staff will stay home Friday.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said late Thursday that he is ordering the closure of committee rooms in the Capitol to keep legislators from gathering and will bar all members from the House floor except for leadership.

Online participation is already required.

Egolf said he was taking the action, in part, after learning the Republican caucus had a luncheon at the Capitol this week “at which members did not wear masks, and gathered in a small space.”

The Republican caucus, meanwhile, said it had pushed to hold the legislative session later in the year after vaccines were more widely distributed.

“Our concern as we move forward is ensuring that, anyone who tests positive or has been exposed, returns to being healthy and safe,” Garcia-Sierra said in a written statement.

The positive cases come as New Mexico is in the second week of a 60-day session conducted largely online.

House Republicans have had the largest physical presence at the Roundhouse, with most of the caucus appearing in person in the House chambers for floor sessions.

Democratic members of the House have generally participated through a webconferencing program, a safety measure they say is intended to limit the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Under rules adopted Monday, in fact, all House members must now participate electronically, regardless of whether they’re in the Capitol or at home – a measure intended to put everyone on equal footing.

But most of the work at this point is happening in committee hearings, which are conducted entirely online.

Masks are required inside the Capitol, and people working inside the building must be tested weekly. Testing is requested, – but not required – for legislators.

Procedures announced before the session call for contact tracing and extra cleaning after a positive case. Any staff or media member who came in contact with the positive case would be required to quarantine for 14 days.

The next Senate floor session – in the Capitol – is scheduled for Monday. Senators, under their rules, may participate in person on the Senate floor or from their Capitol offices electronically.

The next House floor session is set for Tuesday.

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