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Chatfield cancels Michigan House for week amid more COVID worries, cases

LANSING — Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield announced Tuesday he is canceling scheduled session meetings for the rest of the week as multiple legislators seek COVID-19 tests and quarantine after possible contact with an infected staffer.  

Chatfield, R-Levering, said the staffer who contracted the coronavirus "had nothing to do" with last week's House Oversight Committee hearing with Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, attorneys for President Donald Trump who subsequently tested positive for COVID-19, per reports. 

House GOP leadership had already canceled voting Tuesday as some legislators at the Giuliani hearing sought testing. The additional cancellations for Wednesday and Thursday could cause a major disruption for the Legislature's lame-duck session, which is set to wrap up at the end of next week.

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If the House does not approve its own bills this week, the Senate could not vote on them next week because of a rule requiring each chamber to consider legislation for at least five days. It’s possible Republicans who control the House could still schedule a rare Friday or Saturday session this week, but they have not yet announced any plans to do so. 

Chatfield said the new round of legislator testing was sparked by a staffer diagnosis that was "unrelated" to the Giuliani hearing. The staffer works with several legislators and committees but may not have had much close contact with lawmakers while infectious, he said.

"However, some representatives who have been working closely with that person are now choosing to test and isolate pending results," Chatfield said in a statement. 

People who had contact with the staffer have already been informed and are currently isolating and getting tested, he added. "We are asking everyone to stay home, stay healthy and get tested while the (House) Business Office conducts their usual contact tracing.”

The cancellation announcement came the same day as the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration confirmed that an unnamed House staffer has filed a workplace safety complaint over COVID-19. Authorities are investigating the complaint. 

Democrats have urged GOP leaders to allow remote voting so the Legislature can meet remotely during the pandemic, and to implement a mandatory mask rule at the Capitol, where masks are encouraged but not required. Republicans, who control the House and Senate, have declined both recommendations. 

Chatfield also declined multiple requests to disclose the total number of legislators and staff who have contracted COVID-19 since March, citing privacy concerns over transparency.

Given Guiliani’s Sunday hospitalization, it’s “extremely likely” he was contagious when he testified before the Michigan House Oversight committee last  Wednesday, according to Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail. 

She said anyone at the hearing without a mask or within six feet of Giuliani “must quarantine for the safety of others” through Dec. 12, including lawmakers, staff and audience members.

Even people who wore a mask at the hearing should quarantine if they were within six feet of Giuliani for 15 minutes or more, cumulatively, Vail said Monday.

"No health director has the authority to shut down state government," Chatfield said in a Tuesday statement, responding to Vail. 

“Instead, the House will be following the experts and all CDC guidelines. We will adhere to the strong safety protocols that we have had in place all year.”

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