Steve Bair JFAC 2-9-21

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee holds budget hearings on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, in this file photo.

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A second Idaho senator has tested positive for COVID-19 – this one just yesterday – and Senate members and staffers have been warned about a possible exposure, bringing the number of COVID-19 cases at the Statehouse so far this legislative session to six.

Just a day earlier, the Senate announced that a member had tested positive over the weekend. On Monday, Sen. Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, appointed a substitute to fill in for him indefinitely in the Senate. Burtenshaw was listed in fair condition at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center on Tuesday.

Prior to the two senators, one Senate attaché and three House staffers had tested positive since the legislative session started on Jan. 11. You can read my full story here at (subscription required). 

Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, told Eye on Boise this afternoon, “I did test positive. I wasn’t feeling particularly sick yesterday, but I was down near LSO and saw that they had their test signs up. I thought, heck, they’re free, I’ll go do it. So I took the test, and by day’s end, I was feeling pretty miserable.”

“If I’d have known, I would never, ever have set foot in the Capitol,” Bair said, speaking by phone from home.

Senate President Pro-Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise, told KTVB-TV, “It’s one of the assumed risks, and it’s pretty isolated at this point, so we believe we can manage it. … Everybody right now has said, ‘Let’s step up the protocols and be more aware, wash our hands, social distance, wear masks when you’re close to other people.’ So I think people are going to do what they can to make sure they’re safe and stay healthy while they’re here, so we can get our business done and go home.”

Legislative leaders have declined to require masks in their chambers or meeting rooms; many don’t wear them.

Bair is the co-chair of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. Today, both he and House Co-Chair Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, were absent. Bair said several people he had close contact with, including Youngblood, “are home-bound for a week” for quarantine. “I guess the vice-chairs are going to get baptism by fire – I felt bad for ‘em,” Bair said.

At this morning’s JFAC meeting, House Appropriations Vice-Chair Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, presided.

“It breaks my heart, and I feel bad for causing others to be limited in their working capacities,” Bair said, “but it is what it is, and I’ll follow the guidelines.” Bair said he’s been instructed to stay away for 10 days.

Youngblood said, “I’m fine. I don’t have any symptoms.” He said he and his wife both believe they contracted COVID-19 in November after coming into contact with a friend who tested positive. “We both kind of lost our taste and smell,” he said, and had headaches. In January, Youngblood said, he took an antibody test and it was positive, showing he’d had the virus but no longer had it.

“Steve and I don’t really wear a mask up front” when they preside over JFAC meetings, Youngblood said, “but I wear a mask about everywhere else I can.”

Bair said, “I’m not really that sick, to be honest with you. I’ve had the flu that is much, much worse than what I’ve experienced so far.” Bair said he’s had aches and pains plus congestion. But he said he knows others who have suffered much more from COVID-19.

Bair said he did have close contact with Burtenshaw, including a lengthy meeting last Wednesday to discuss legislation. "You never know where you got it from," Bair said.

According to the Legislature’s quarantine policy, which was issued Jan. 12, those who come into close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 must stay home for a week and have a negative COVID-19 test on Day 5 or later before returning to work. Those who test positive for the virus must isolate for at least 10 days after symptoms appeared, or for those who are asymptomatic, from the date of the positive test. Following the 10-day period, individuals may return to work when they've had no fever for 24 hours and other symptoms, such as cough or shortness of breath, have improved.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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