RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Republican legislative leaders declined to implement a series of changes to COVID-19 safety protocols this week that House Democrats requested as the state sees a surge in cases.
The Democrats wrote a letter to Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble calling for him to take three steps: requiring employees be vaccinated or undergo regular testing, require masks be worn in all public areas and provide timely notification to employees about positive cases among legislators and staff.
“These three decisions will make the NCGA a safer environment for everyone,” Reps. Robert Reives (D-Chatham) and Gale Adcock (D-Wake) wrote in the letter.
In his response, Coble noted existing steps that have been implemented including: an enhanced cleaning policy, temperature checks and quarantine guidelines sent to employees who are either exposed to COVID-19 or test positive.
“While some areas of our state may be experiencing an uptick in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, we are not experiencing an unusual increase in the numbers beyond what we have seen during the past year of the pandemic,” Coble wrote.
Republican leaders in the House and Senate said earlier this week the only current cases they know of include Rep. Keith Kidwell (R-Beaufort), who was hospitalized last week, and a staff member in the Senate who is fully vaccinated and quarantining.
“We’re not aware of any widespread… of any spreading beyond that here. So, I think we’ve observed the appropriate protocols,” said House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland). “We’ve made it very clear: if someone is showing any signs whatsoever to stay away. If someone has been exposed to someone, they should stay away and get tested. So, what we’ve done is working.”
The City of Raleigh implemented an indoor mask mandate last Friday, which does not apply to state buildings. When Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s statewide mask mandate was in effect, it did not apply to the legislature, as it’s a separate branch of government.
This week, state Health and Human Services Sec. Dr. Mandy Cohen said North Carolina is seeing the fastest acceleration of COVID-19 cases so far during the pandemic, which is fueled by the fast-spreading delta variant.
“Every day we’re seeing worse numbers. We’re seeing rising deaths, hospitalizations. We need better protocol. We need better reporting of cases,” said Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham).
Speaker Moore noted he’s been vaccinated and has encouraged others to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Before vaccines were widely available, the House implemented a proxy voting protocol to allow members to participate remotely.
However, he said he will not approve any mandates on masks or vaccinations.
“The wearing of masks is something that’s up to each individual,” he said. “Most all of my staff has been vaccinated. But, I’m not going to mandate something like that for someone. But, I certainly believe it’s the correct choice to make.”