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BOISE — A Idaho House staff member tested positive for COVID-19 after the first week of the session, House officials acknowledged Tuesday, and stayed home for a week but has now been cleared to return to work.

“The health authorities were notified and we followed the protocols for tracking any potential ‘close contacts,’” Mary Lou Molitor, chief of staff to Speaker Scott Bedke, wrote in an email sent Tuesday to Rep. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise, who had inquired about increasing rumors of House staffers getting the virus.

“Follow-up testing was done on a number of other staff members, and all those tests were negative,” Molitor wrote.

That was the same time frame in which a Senate attaché tested positive for COVID-19, prompting Secretary of the Senate Jennifer Novak to send notice on Jan. 18 to all Senate members and staff about the potential exposure. That staffer, who was asymptomatic, has since been cleared and returned to work Monday.

The House has chosen not to follow the same notification procedures thus far, and instead just contacted health authorities and cooperated in contact tracing. No one else was notified, including House members, other staffers who had not been in close contact with the infected staffer, or others in the state Capitol.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said Tuesday, “Was that our obligation?” No further notice was issued, he said, “because it was handled.”

“The circumstances of that issue and this was completely different,” he said, referring to the Senate staffer who was infected. “This was caught and turned over to the health district. We followed the protocols. End of statement.”

Necochea was stunned. “I think it endangers all of us,” she said. “When this happened on the Senate side, they sent out a public statement to everyone so people could test, isolate, re-evaluate their safety protocols. We didn’t have the opportunity to do that.”

She noted, “When someone tests positive at our children’s school, we all receive an email. If this were happening at anyone’s place of work, you’d expect that you’d be notified.”

“No one in our caucus received any notification,” she said.

“I just hope we can all act in good faith to protect one another,” Necochea said, “and we can do that best by being as transparent as possible.”

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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