Just as things were starting to get underway in the House after it took 31 days for the chamber to organize, everything came to an abrupt halt following the positive covi-19 test for Tok Republican Rep. Mike Cronk on Wednesday night.
Nearly every meeting in both the House and the Senate were canceled for today and it’s unclear when and how business will resume considering the potentially widespread transmission of the coronavirus by Cronk, who has been working and participating in committees throughout this week. In light of the disruption, House Speaker Louise Stutes asked lawmakers to cease any travel in and out of Juneau and pledged to begin working through the weekends to make up for lost time.
“I am requesting that you refrain from traveling outside of Juneau unless absolutely necessary until further notice. The House of Representatives has much work before us. Further, recent events highlight the likelihood of additional COVID protocol delays and the increased risk of contagion from traveling outside of the Capitol Building bubble,” she wrote in an email this morning. “Our primary function is to faithfully carry out our duties under the constitution. That aside, there are many critical issues we must address to move the state forward. In order to ensure the fulfilment of our obligations, the House will be working weekends until our business, the people’s business, is concluded. Our constituents deserve nothing less.”
Cronk was one of six legislators who attended a fundraiser for the Alaska Outdoor Council on Saturday in Palmer. Cronk was photographed without a mask alongside House Minority Leader Cathy Tilton and Kevin McCabe. The Anchorage Daily News reports that McCabe has already had covid-19. Tilton Has not. Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy also attended the event before testing positive for covid-19 on Wednesday. Officials don’t believe there’s a close contact connection between Dunleavy and Cronk.
No other positive cases have yet been identified, though there is a lag between exposure and when an infection becomes strong enough to detect with a test.
While the Senate has approved measures that would allow legislators to participate in floor sessions remotely, the House has not yet approved such a measure. Committees, however, can be moved online to teleconferences. That was the case for the House Health and Social Services Committee, co-chaired by Reps. Tiffany Zulkosky and Liz Snyder, which plans to push ahead with a hearing on the administration’s proposed reorganization of the Department of Health and Social Services today at 3 p.m. via teleconference.
It’s likely to be the case for the immediate future while the Legislature untangles the web of Cronk’s possible contacts. He is a member of the House Transportation, Resources, Education and Tribal Affairs committees. All but the Tribal Affairs Committee have held meetings this week, during which Cronk was sitting in close proximity to fellow legislators.
One source told The Midnight Sun that as many as 15
committee hearings other individuals are currently on the Legislature’s contact tracing list.
The Legislature’s covid-19 rules require all legislators and staff wear masks during committee hearings and in other common spaces but allows legislators to set looser masking policies in their own offices.