2 Nebraska state senators self-isolate after virus exposure
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Two Nebraska state senators who may have been exposed to the coronavirus isolated themselves Tuesday from their fellow lawmakers, taking seats in a distant upper balcony so they can still participate in legislative debate.
Sens. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln and Julie Slama of Peru separated themselves from the rest of the Legislature in an abundance of caution. Both lawmakers took seats in a balcony at the back of the legislative chamber, about 40 feet above the main floor.
Neither senator has tested positive for the virus or shown any symptoms.
Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer said members of Slama’s family have tested positive for the virus. Slama, 24, tested negative and may return to the main floor of the Legislature within the next few days. Scheer said that, in an abundance of caution, he asked Slama to remain isolated until she can be retested later this week.
Senators in the rear balcony have a microphone available and are able to vote and participate in debate.
Morfeld, 35, announced on social media Monday night that he has been in frequent contact with a person who recently tested positive for the virus. He said his staff is working from home and he expects to receive test results soon to confirm whether he has contracted it.
“Fortunately, my office has been closed to the public, I have worn a mask at all times and I am taking other precautions such as regular hand washing,” he said.
Slama is a registered Republican and Morfeld is a Democrat in the officially nonpartisan Legislature.
Lawmakers returned to their regular session on July 20 after a four-month hiatus to try to keep the virus from spreading. The session is set to end Aug. 13.
Another lawmaker, Sen. Mike Moser, 68, of Columbus, was hospitalized and put on a respirator after catching the virus earlier this year, but he has since recovered. Moser urged his colleagues to wear a mask to try to keep the virus from spreading, but some of his fellow conservative Republicans haven’t followed that advice.
Sen. Tony Vargas, of Omaha, has also publicly warned about the dangers of the virus after it killed his father.
Nebraska lawmakers spent Tuesday morning debating how to spend federal coronavirus aid.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness.
Nebraska has confirmed 24,899 known cases and 317 virus-related deaths since the pandemic began, according to the state’s online tracking portal. State officials confirmed 281 new cases on Monday.
Nebraska currently has 39% of its hospital beds available and 81% of its ventilators available, according to the tracking portal.