A small outbreak of COVID-19 cases in the State Capitol Building in the last week has led to the return of the mask mandate in the building on Tuesday.
According to a memo from Secretary of the Senate Erika Contreras and and Assembly Chief Administrative Officer Debra Gravert, face masks are required to be worn by all lawmakers and staff in the Capitol Building, the Legislative Office Building (LOB), and all district offices once again. In addition, all unvaccinated employees must be tested twice a week for COVID-19 beginning on Thursday. Vaccinated and unvaccinated people alike will need to adhere to the returning mandate, which had previously been dropped when the state reopened last month.
“Effective immediately, and in the short term, all Senators and staff are again required to wear a mask at all times while in the Capitol, Legislative Office Building (LOB) and district offices, regardless of vaccine status,” said Contreras in her memo.
A total of 9 cases had been reported in the Capitol building last week, with four of the nine cases those who are fully vaccinated, and seven of the nine coming from the same Assembly office. All nine who tested for COVID-19 also had worn masks while in the Capitol and had been observing state quarantine rules.
According to Contreras and Gravert, Senators and staff have a 85% vaccination rate, with the Assembly coming in with a nearly identical 84% rate. But, despite the number of vaccinated employees testing positive once again, staff were asked to please continue getting vaccinated, as it offered better protection than no vaccine.
“As we know from these most recent cases, even fully vaccinated individuals can be infected with COVID-19,” added Contreras in her memo. “However, public health experts indicate that fully vaccinated individuals are less likely to suffer the most serious symptoms of COVID-19, and for this reason, the Senate continues to encourage all staff to protect themselves by receiving the vaccine.”
The return of the mask mandate
For many Capitol employees, the return of the mask mandate brings back memories of sudden COVID-19 restriction shifts, such as the Senate and Assembly temporarily closing down following a COVID-19 outbreak in July 2020, and 10 possibly infected GOP Senators being barred from in-person voting in August 2020.
“It’s not as bad as the rollercoaster ride last year, but the masks coming back really feel s like a huge step back,” explained “Dana,” a Capitol staffer. “No one is happy about this. We had previously been given the all clear, and on some days, it was like everything was back to normal. But now the masks are back, just in time to help remind Senators and Assembly Members alike of COVID restrictions right before committee votes on COVID issues. Some think that it may influence some votes, the masks being a reminder and all, but honestly all it is is something most of us will grudgingly do for the next few weeks before more testing hopefully brings the requirement down once again.”
“But a lot of us also worry that it could be continued, with a new variant, like the delta variant, being given as a pretext to keep the masks for longer. A lot of us are really hoping that that will not happen.”
While no end date to the returning mandate was announced as of Wednesday, wording in the memos state that it will remain in place for a least “the short term.”