State Sen. Scott Kawasaki, in a hallway in the Alaska State Capitol on Feb. 16 holds up the strip showing he has tested negative for COVID-19. Kawasaki said he opted to take a test that day. (Yereth Rosen / Alaska Beacon)

State Sen. Scott Kawasaki, in a hallway in the Alaska State Capitol on Feb. 16 holds up the strip showing he has tested negative for COVID-19. Kawasaki said he opted to take a test that day. (Yereth Rosen / Alaska Beacon)

COVID-19 creeps back into Alaska’s Capitol

Voluntary testing, other precautionary measures enacted due to multitude of cases

The COVID-19 pandemic emergency may have officially ended, but the coronavirus is still having an effect on the Alaska Capitol.

On Friday, the leaders of the Alaska Senate Finance Committee announced they will institute “voluntary” COVID testing for legislators and staff who work on the committee.

The announcement came after several legislators and staff tested positive for COVID.

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, said that with all three committee co-chairs (including himself) calling for voluntary testing, it’s voluntary in the same sense that an Army sergeant asking for volunteers is voluntary.

“We’ve had too many hot cases of COVID in the building, and we’re worried about having the Senate Finance Committee slowed down or even stopped,” he said.

Elsewhere in the building, the chairs of the House and Senate rules committees issued a joint memo calling on legislators and staff to stay home if they are ill or test positive for COVID-19.

“It’s running through the building,” said Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage and the Senate Rules chair.

Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage and chair of the Legislative Council, said there have been no changes in the Capitol’s COVID policy so far.

Last year, legislators dropped an anti-COVID testing and masking policy in February and declined to reinstate it even after cases rose and lawmakers canceled some work.

Masking and testing remains voluntary for staff and legislators.

At least one member of the state House has been ill with COVID and away from the Capitol this week. A bill from Rep. Stanley Wright, R-Anchorage, was scheduled for a vote on the House floor this week, but that vote was postponed because of his illness.

A scheduled House floor session on Friday turned into a technical session, but that wasn’t just because of COVID absences, said Speaker of the House Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla.

Many legislators had already gone to their home districts for the weekend.

• James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. This article originally appeared online at Alaska Beacon, an affiliate of States Newsroom, is an independent, nonpartisan news organization focused on connecting Alaskans to their state government.

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