Alaska Legislature

Sen. Reinbold agrees to follow COVID-19 policy in Alaska Capitol

JUNEAU — A dispute over anti-COVID policy in the Alaska Senate appeared to reach resolution Monday, but another arose in the state House on the same day that two more people tested positive for COVID-19 in the Alaska State Capitol.

Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, wore a CDC-compliant facemask Monday in the Capitol, ending a weeklong dispute that saw her removed from committee hearings and told to leave the floor of the Alaska Senate.

Reinbold had previously declined to provide proof of a negative COVID test and wear a mask that follows the Capitol’s rules.

“What you’re seeing this morning is the Senate organization is 100% compliant on following the rules of the COVID-19 mitigation policy,” said Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, as he left the Senate chambers next to Reinbold.

At almost the same time, Rep. Christopher Kurka, R-Wasilla, left the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives after removing his face mask.

In a speech on the floor, Kurka said the way House leaders are implementing COVID-19 rules is a “thinly veiled power play.”

Kurka said he doubts that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s support for wearing masks is based on science. He asked legislators to reconsider their support for anti-COVID measures.

“COVID-19 is here to stay. No measures we take are going to stop it, no matter how repressive a course, or unconstitutional,” he said.

House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, said that wearing a mask is like putting on a seatbelt on a commercial airliner. When everyone wears their seatbelt, the plane can take off.

“Hopefully with everybody wearing their seatbelts, we can turn off the seatbelt sign and fly together,” he said.

Shortly after that speech, House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, asked Kurka to put his mask back on.

“Would you prefer I leave?” he asked.

“If you don’t want to put your mask on, then yes, I would prefer that you leave,” she said.

Kurka left the chamber and put his mask back on after he left. He wore a mask in subsequent committee and subcommittee meetings.

On Monday afternoon, Micciche said by email that two more Senate aides have tested positive for COVID-19.

Nine legislators and staff have tested positive since the legislative session began, said Jessica Geary, director of the nonpartisan Legislative Affairs Agency, which operates the state Capitol on behalf of the Legislature.

At least 10 people are “close contacts” to those two cases, Micciche said, but Geary said contact tracing is continuing, and she was not able to provide a figure for the number of people who are quarantining.

Of the approximately 450 people who work in the Capitol, Geary said 243 have received at least one vaccination shot through an ongoing drive. That does not include others who have been vaccinated through other efforts.

James Brooks

James Brooks was a Juneau-based reporter for the ADN from 2018 to May 2022.

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