COVID testing requirements will return to Alaska Capitol amid recent surge

Sen. Jesse Kiehl gets a COVID-19 test on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. Regular testing and daily screening is a requirement for working the state capitol this session. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)
Sen. Jesse Kiehl gets a COVID-19 test in January 2021 at the Alaska Capitol Building. The Legislative Council updated its COVID-19 safety policy on Tuesday in response to the surge in cases. People working at the Capitol will be required to be tested every four days and to isolate if they test positive. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Legislators and others who work in the Capitol will again be required to be tested for COVID-19 regularly. 

The Legislative Council, which is responsible for the Capitol, updated its COVID-19 safety policy on Tuesday in response to the recent surge in cases. 

Juneau Democratic Rep. Sara Hannan is the council’s chair. She says the update will improve safety while minimizing costs.

“I feel like it is a step in the right direction and contemplates the movement of people who are regularly coming in and out of the building,” she said.

The updated policy requires those who work in the Capitol to be tested every four days and to isolate if they test positive.

The new policy doesn’t affect members of the public, who are required to wear a mask in the Capitol and to screen themselves for symptoms before entering the building. 

The council voted 10 to 3 in favor of the testing. Eagle River Republican Sen. Lora Reinbold was among the no votes. 

“We are constitutionally required to be at the Capitol,” Reinbold said. “And I don’t want to be put in a box where I’m not allowed to represent people if I don’t follow something, you know, such as cycling testing every four days to access the Capitol. I think this is just about the most unconstitutional thing I’ve ever seen.” 

Reinbold has been banned by Alaska Airlines for refusing to wear a mask. 

The new policy will not require those who work in the Capitol to provide proof that they have been tested. The council considered reinstituting screening at the door to verify that people have been tested. But the members decided against it, noting both the cost and the possibility that lawmakers may not spend much time in the Capitol this special session, which must end by Nov. 2. 

The next floor sessions are scheduled for Friday. 

Andrew Kitchenman

State Government Reporter, Alaska Public Media & KTOO

State government plays an outsized role in the life of Alaskans. As the state continues to go through the painful process of deciding what its priorities are, I bring Alaskans to the scene of a government in transition.

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