Two Oklahoma state representatives have tested positive for COVID-19, launching a contact tracing protocol in the House.
As first reported by the Tulsa World, Reps. Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, and Tammy Townley, R-Ardmore, both tested positive for COVID-19.
Wallace said he did not attend the Tuesday swearing-in ceremonial. Instead, the lawmaker took his oath in quarantine on Wednesday as did other members who were in contact with Wallace.
“The Oath of Office was administered to me individually under [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines,” Wallace said in a statement.
Wallace said he took a COVID-19 test because it was required for a trip he had scheduled over the weekend.
“Immediately upon learning of testing positive, I contacted the Speaker’s Office. … I am still asymptomatic and quarantining,” he said in the statement.
Townley was in attendance at the ceremonial swearing-in on Tuesday without a mask for at least a portion of the event, the World reported.
“I tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies this summer, and for that reason had zero reason to believe I was a transmission risk this week,” Townley said in a statement. “That is why it is so surprising I tested positive again after the oath ceremony. I am asymptomatic, feel fine and only took a test because it was required for an event I planned to attend Thursday.”
Many House members were not notified of the positive tests. Instead, some learned from Twitter when World Capitol Bureau reporter Barbara Hoberock broke the story.
State Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman, said he was not notified about the positive cases.
House members took the legally required Oath of Office on the House floor in small groups on Tuesday due to construction and COVID-19, Rosecrants said. He was not in attendance at the ceremonial swearing-in on the fourth floor rotunda of the state Capitol, but he said he watched from his office in “abject horror.”
“Finding out [about the positive cases] from Twitter made me think what kind of leadership do we even have at the Capitol,” Rosecrants said. “That’s the least they could do is give us a heads-up — no names, who cares about that — but just a simple little, This is what’s up — we’ll keep you advised.’ If not from the very top, at least from the offices. I don’t know — I was just flabbergasted that I found out from Twitter.”
Transparency is a good thing, especially during a pandemic, Rosecrants said.
“Especially when we hear a lot of our elected officials — especially in leadership — say transparency and accountability are the most important things in their lives. Well, I’m ready to see some action on that. [Most importantly] when it comes to protecting and preventing the spread of the virus at the Capitol and the rest of Oklahoma,” he said.
Rosecrants said he wants concrete protocols in place for when the legislative session starts in February.
“I’m sure that will come out in the future, but if nothing is done it’s going to be a big problem,” he said. “It’s around the state too. I want people to understand that we’re trying to protect them by protecting us, and we’re also urging Gov. Stitt to go ahead and join the rest of the states around Oklahoma in enacting a mask mandate when you can’t socially distance.”
State Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City, was in attendance at the ceremonial swearing-in on Tuesday and found out about the members testing positive via Twitter as well. Since then, Bennett said he has been socially distancing and will be getting a COVID-19 test.
“It’s frustrating [finding out from Twitter], but it’s not a partisan issue it’s a protocol issue,” Bennett said. “ … I will say since this happened last night — there have been encouraging conversations about taking proper measures to make sure session is safe.”
Bennett said he wants to see added protocols in place, not just in the Capitol but also statewide.
“Masks [should be] required if you’re not in your office, specifically within the building, and social distancing measures put in place and enforced. I want to be clear about this, and I want to make sure people — and especially my Republican colleagues — know this. I know there are plenty of Republicans that I serve with who are taking this seriously and want to do right. But there are others who continue to think that it is all overblown,” Bennett said.
House spokesperson John Estus said the House will be implementing safety protocols.
“The Legislature has been working with Health Department officials on safety protocols for the 2021 legislative session,” Estus said. “Those protocols will be in place and announced before the session begins Feb. 1.”
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