BOISE, Idaho — On back-to-back days this week, members of the Idaho Senate received a letter telling them one of their colleagues had tested positive for coronavirus.
It was virtually the same letter, just 24-hours apart.
“It is exactly the same and no names are mentioned," said Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, a Boise Democrat. "We know who they are, but we now have two senators who have tested positive for COVID."
Ward-Engelking explained what went through her mind when she saw the letters.
“I need to get a COVID test, as quick as I can,” she said.
Fortunately, Idaho lawmakers can get daily COVID-19 tests through Boise State with turnaround results in about a day.
“That gives me a little comfort but we are kind of doing the COVID dance around here for sure,” Ward-Engelking said.
Republican Sen. Chuck Winder, the Senate president pro tempore, said there is heightened awareness about coronavirus protocols at the Statehouse as the focus remains on getting work down.
“It’s sort of the assumed risk and it’s pretty isolated at this point so we believe we can manage it,” Winder said. “Everybody right now has said let's step up the protocols and be more aware - wash our hands, social distance, wear a mask when you are close to other people - so I think people are going to do what they can to make sure they are safe and stay healthy while they are here so we can get our business done and go home.”
Ward-Engelking agreed that lawmakers know they are taking a risk by going to the Capitol every day. For her though, she wants to make sure her constituents are being represented.
“We are doing what we can do but it is still a risk and there are still people that are in the Capitol that aren’t convinced that they need to follow those guidelines," she said. "So we just do the best we can."
Some lawmakers have voiced concerns about the pace of the session. Some argue that in the midst of a pandemic, crucial business like budgets and aid money for Idahoans should be taken up and finished while other things could realistically wait.
“I want us to move a little quicker and do those things and then if we have time to do something later then that is okay but I’m worried that we are spending our time debating some bills right now that aren’t critical to the state of Idaho,” Ward-Engleking said.
Winder told KTVB that lawmakers are working through several items this week.
“I think we are going to try and get our work done and be on time," he said. "Our target date [for adjournment] is the last Friday in March and if everything goes well we should be able to hit that date. We’ll get the work done people want us to get done. It may not appear like it at the time but it will get done.”
That ending goal is a little more than a month away. For now, there is no word on any changes to the COVID-19 protocols at the Statehouse, but some lawmakers are encouraging their colleagues to tighten up their habits.
“We are just doing the best we can to keep safe and follow all the guidelines,” Ward-Engelking said.
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