Laina G. Stebbins graphic, Susan J. Demas photo
Michigan House leaders are starting to share more information about how many people working in the Capitol have contracted COVID-19, but questions remain.
The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) opened an investigation Tuesday into the state House for possible violations of COVID-19 emergency workplace rules after an employee filed a complaint.
The rules, put in place in October, require employers to establish a COVID-19 safety plan, allow workers who can to work from home and mandate masks for those who must work in-person.
Gideon D’Assandro, spokesperson for House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), told reporters Wednesday that eight representatives and 21 House staff members “have either informed the House of a positive COVID diagnosis or are otherwise known to have had the illness.”
Names were not released. House policy does not require personal health information to be made public and leaves that to individual members to disclose, much to the chagrin of journalists and others at the state Capitol, some of whom have been concerned about their own possible exposure to the virus. Two of President Trump’s lawyers, Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, testified last week before a House committee and have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
The Advance has previously reported during the pandemic about transparency and public health concerns about opaque disclosure policies for public officials.
Seven House members, including State Reps. John Chirkun (D-Roseville), Kyra Bolden (D-Southfield), Scott VanSingel (R-Grant), Ann Bollin (R-Brighton Twp.), Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain), Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit) and Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit), have all publicly disclosed that they have tested positive for COVID-19.
State Rep. Kara Hope (D-Holt) said in the spring that she believed she had COVID-19, although her test was lost. It is unclear whether or not Hope is included in D’Assandro’s count, and when asked D’Assandro stated he “can’t get into those specifics.”
D’Assandro did note that Rep. Isaac Robinson (D-Detroit), who died in March presumably due to health complications caused by COVID-19, was not included in his count.
On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey spokesperson Amber McCann disclosed that three state senators and 16 Senate staffers have so far tested positive for COVID-19.
The three senators who have publicly announced their COVID-19 diagnoses are Sens. Kim LaSata (R-Bainbridge Twp.), Tom Barrett (R-Potterville) and Jim Ananich (D-Flint).
In total, between both chambers, there are 11 lawmakers and 27 legislative staff members who have publicly disclosed that they had contracted COVID-19 since March.
Other states, including Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin, have seen clashes over safety and reporting protocols as they also have experienced outbreaks among lawmakers working in their Capitol buildings.
There also have been a number of cases in the U.S. Congress, including two Michigan U.S. Reps. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) and Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland). The U.S. House has responded to outbreaks with a mask mandate, a widespread testing program and allowing for remote meetings and hearings. Neither the U.S. Senate or House have policies requiring COVID-19 cases to be disclosed publicly.
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