Minnesota Senate employee tests positive for COVID-19 prompting call for senators to self-quarantine

The announcement comes as the lawmakers approach the deadline to wrap up business of the 2020 session.

Members of the Minnesota Senate on Thursday, April 30, 2020, spread out across the chamber to maintain social distancing guidelines. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — An employee working with the Minnesota Senate tested positive for the coronavirus, the chamber's secretary announced Wednesday, May 6.

Secretary of the Senate Cal Ludeman in an email to lawmakers and Senate employees said a Senate employee had been confirmed positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus and senators and staff who'd interacted with that individual were notified and asked to self-quarantine. A spokeswoman for the Senate Republican caucus shared the contents of that email with reporters.

The notice comes weeks after the Senate resumed operations after a recess spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic and as lawmakers enter the final two weeks of the legislative session. While lawmakers and staff adopted new social distancing, cleaning and spacing measures since returning to work, several have skipped wearing masks or face coverings at the Capitol and not all have abided by suggested social distancing requirements.

Few details about the infected employee were made public Wednesday as Ludeman said he could not "share nor discuss individual personal health information." Rachel Aplikowski, a spokeswoman for the GOP Caucus, said she didn't know how many staff members or senators had been asked to self-quarantine.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor senators last month raised red flags about continuing Senate work without further precautions and urged Republican leadership in that chamber to use more virtual hearings or floor sessions rather than in-person meetings to prevent the spread of COVID-19. And on Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, D-Woodbury, said the Senate should only meet when necessary and members should wear face masks.


“I have openly stated my serious concerns with the Senate holding frequent floor sessions and am renewing a call to only reconvene the body when absolutely necessary and for the requirement of protective face masks on the floor so we can finish the legislative session strong and reduce the risk of exposure," Kent said in a news release. "As we proceed, we must prioritize the health and safety of the public, staff, and our members.”

Both legislative chambers have picked up work related to COVID-19 response and other state business under new protocols, including for the first time in the state's history allowing members to debate and vote remotely on legislation.

As of Wednesday, 8,579 Minnesotans had tested positive for COVID-19 and 485 died from the illness and its complications. Health officials say that total likely undercounts the number who have or have had the illness.

An employee working with the Minnesota House of Representatives in March tested positive for COVID-19, spurring the temporary closure of the Capitol complex building where lawmakers have offices.

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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