The Alaska State Capitol remained closed to the public on Monday, April 26, 2021, but with high rates of vaccinations among staff, lawmakers have relaxed some of the health rules in place since the start of the session in January. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

The Alaska State Capitol remained closed to the public on Monday, April 26, 2021, but with high rates of vaccinations among staff, lawmakers have relaxed some of the health rules in place since the start of the session in January. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

With vaccines available, lawmakers relax rules at Capitol

Still closed to the public, but vaccinated staff can skip test

Health screening rules at the Alaska State Capitol changed Friday after a joint committee of lawmakers voted to update the rules.

Under the new guidelines, people with Capitol clearance and who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 will no longer have to test weekly in order to enter the building.

The Capitol complex, normally open to the public, has been closed to everyone but lawmakers, staff and credentialed media since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. The Capitol will remain closed to members of the public, but the changes are the first time health mitigation rules have been significantly relaxed since the start of the legislative session in January.

“We are optimistic that we can begin to relax mitigation policies as we move toward normalcy,” said Jessica Geary, executive director of the Legislative Affairs Agency, which oversees management of the building.

On Friday, a joint committee of lawmakers heard testimony from health officials and reviewed federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, Legislative Affairs Agency said in a news release, and made the changes based on that information.

Under previous rules, anyone entering the Capitol had to be tested every five days and submit to a symptoms screening when first entering the building. The screening will remain in place, Geary said in an email, but fully vaccinated people no longer have to provide a negative COVID-19 test. The state hired a private company, Beacon Occupational Health and Safety Services, to conduct the testing at a site near the Capitol.

[Airline bans Reinbold for violating mask rule]

That company also began providing COVID-19 vaccines to Capitol workers who wanted them in March. Under the new guidelines, a person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, according to LAA.

Geary told the Empire Monday roughly 75% of people with Capitol access are fully vaccinated but added there are no requirements for someone to report a vaccine to LAA.

Several Republican lawmakers have been vocal critics of health mitigation rules such as masking in place at the Capitol and have called for building to be opened to the public. On Friday, just before Legislative Council met to discuss the rules, Sen. Robert Myers, R-North Pole, questioned how long the rules were to remain in place during a speech on the Senate floor.

In March, Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, was barred from the floor of the Alaska Senate for violating mask rules and was recently banned from Alaska Airlines flights for 30 days for refusing to follow mask rules. Reinbold was at the Capitol on Monday, and said in an interview she had driven to Haines and used the Alaska Marine Highway System to get to Juneau.

“I got a new appreciation for the ferry system,” Reinbold said.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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