At least 12 Michigan lawmakers and 37 staffers have had COVID-19

After refusing earlier requests, House Speaker Lee Chatfield on Wednesday disclosed the number of lawmakers and staffers who have contracted COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. The rate appears to be higher for lawmakers than that of the general public. (Bridge file photo)

LANSING — At least 12 state lawmakers and 37 staffers have contracted COVID-19 since March, according to Republican leaders in the Michigan Legislature who have resisted Democratic calls to mandate mask use and allow remote voting at the Capitol. 

House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, released the numbers for the first time Wednesday after declining earlier requests to do so from Bridge Michigan and other media outlets.

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His office said eight of 110 state representatives and 21 staffers “have either informed the House of a positive COVID diagnosis or are otherwise known to have had the illness.”

To date, only seven representatives have publicly disclosed a COVID-19 diagnosis, meaning that at least one state lawmaker who contracted the virus may not have informed constituents who he or she represents in Lansing. 

A ninth, Republican state Rep. Mark Huizenga of Walker, confirmed Wednesday that he tested positive for antibodies, meaning he likely had COVID-19 at some point but was never diagnosed and told Bridge Michigan he never had any symptoms. 

House GOP spokesman Gideon D’Assandro would not say whether Huizenga was the eighth lawmaker referenced in the case count totals, which Chatfield provided without names. 

A tenth state representative, Democrat Isaac Robinson of Detroit, is believed to have had the virus when he died in late March.  

In the Michigan Senate, three of 38 state senators and 16 staffers or interns have tested positive for COVID-19 to date, a spokesperson for Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said Monday.

That means about 8 percent of all state lawmakers have had COVID-19 (at least 12 of 148), almost twice the statewide rate in MIchigan, where roughly 4.4 percent of the total population has tested positive since March, according to health department data.

Transparency advocates had urged Chatfield to disclose case counts, and Democrats have complained about workplace safety issues at the Capitol, where state authorities are currently investigating a complaint filed by an unnamed House employee.

“Nine months into this pandemic, and we’re finally getting this public information,” state Rep. Darrin Camilleri, D-Brownstown Township, wrote on Twitter after the GOP release.  “Incredibly sad that it’s taken pressure from the media to make this happen. Our workplace should take stronger steps to keep us safe so we can address our state’s problems.”

Chatfield, who has defended House protocols for COVID-19, canceled three days of scheduled voting this week because multiple legislators were awaiting test results after possible exposure to an infected staffer or to Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney who testified before a House committee last week and was hospitalized over the weekend.

The cancellations could cause a major disruption in the so-called lame-duck session as the Legislature considers hundreds of bills that will die if not approved by the end of the year.  

The Senate continues to meet but is expected to adjourn by next Thursday.  It’s possible Chatfield could still keep House legislation moving by scheduling rare votes on Friday or Saturday, but he has not yet announced any plans to do so. 

Giuliani has said he tested negative for COVID-19 on Monday or Tuesday before he appeared before the Michigan House Oversight Committee, where he did not wear a mask while repeating unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in the state’s Nov. 3 general election and urging legislators to ignore the popular vote to appoint pro-Trump electors, which they did not do. 

During his visit to the House Office Building in Lansing, the former New York mayor sat beside several unmasked witnesses and Trump campaign attorney Jenna Ellis, who also subsequently tested positive for COVID-19, according to reports.

Chatfield has acknowledged that he and Committee Chair Matt Hall, R-Marshall, both met with Giuliani before the hearing. But both legislators wore masks and did not come within six feet of the former New York mayor, Chatfield said. 

Hall, who leads the committee and spent hours in the same room as Giuliani and Ellis, said Wednesday that he has tested negative for COVID-19. He sought a test Monday morning, got his results Tuesday and is currently isolating at home and monitoring for any potential symptoms, which he has not had to date, he told Bridge.

A staffer’s diagnosis prompted Chatfield to cancel planned votes and committee hearings this week, but the House Speaker has insisted the staffer “had nothing to do” with the Giuliani hearing. 

The staffer works with several legislators and committees but may not have had much close contact with lawmakers while infectious, Chatfield said in a Tuesday statement. 

"However, some representatives who have been working closely with that person are now choosing to test and isolate pending results," he said. "We are asking everyone to stay home, stay healthy and get tested while the (House) Business Office conducts their usual contact tracing.”

Michigan state Sens. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte; Jim Ananich, D-Flint and Kim Lasata, R-Bainbridge Township have disclosed positive tests for COVID-19. 

In the House, state Reps. Tyrone Carter, D-Detroit; Karen Whitsett, D-Detroit; Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain; Scott Van Singel, R-Grant; Ann Bollin, R-Brighton; Kyra Harris Bolden, D-Southfield and John Chirkun, D-Roseville, have confirmed diagnoses. 

Huizenga, the Walker Republican who told Bridge he tested positive for antibodies last week, said he thinks the GOP majority is taking the virus seriously. 

“We’ll continue to take prophylactic measures to keep people safe,” he said. 

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Jeanie O
Thu, 12/10/2020 - 8:03am

Why? It doesn't have to be this way.

Sharon G
Thu, 12/10/2020 - 9:54am

There seems to be a pattern of Republicans elected in gerrymandered districts comporting themselves recklessly and imposing their decisions on the rest of us without caring what we think, even when we consist of the majority.

Jake K
Thu, 12/10/2020 - 9:59am

So...why is this “news” deserving of being reported? Transmission of any virus is expected. It’s almost as if Jonathan Oosting is targeting Republicans for the spread amongst legislators. There is no factual, indisputable “smoking gun” any public sector...and I really wish that Bridge MI would report more on matters other than virus related. My response to the article headline is, “who cares?”

Jim C
Thu, 12/10/2020 - 11:40am

Maybe because Chatfield is not taking reasonable precautions to prevent these unnecessary breakouts. An elected official acting so recklessly, endangering other elected officials, their staff, and the general public, IS newsworthy. He insists on meeting in person, does test people entering the capitol, allows people to mill about, etc.

Into the Light
Thu, 12/10/2020 - 12:01pm

It's called the fourth estate, democracy dies in the dark. Dictators hate the press.

Nick Ciaramitaro
Thu, 12/10/2020 - 12:36pm

It is newsworthy when an infectious disease prevents the Legislature from conducting the people's business, especially when it is indicative of that body's failure to take appropriate precautionary steps.

Thu, 12/10/2020 - 10:00am

No mask, end of the line for testing or treatment.

Why Public?
Thu, 12/10/2020 - 10:10am

Why should this be considered "public" information? I know we are living under Dictator Whitmer's ham-fisted orders now, but health information is PROTECTED under the HIPPA laws. What's next? Are you going to demand that any lawmaker with diabetes has to disclose it? High blood pressure? I wonder if all of these people who are clamoring for disclosure would be OK if their health records were made public.
I wonder how many employees in the auto industry have tested positive for Covid? Why aren't they being forced to publicly disclose it? Or how many workers in the health care industry? Why are they being forced to publicly disclose it?
This is just more shame tactics being used by Whitmer to try and force people to bend the knee to her. I'm betting you anything that she wouldn't admit it if she had it. But then again, just like everything else Covid related, she would admit it, play the victim, beg for more attention and then use it for her political career advancement.

Thu, 12/10/2020 - 11:49am

When you force our elected officials to meet in person during a pandemic, it is definitely newsworthy to the public. Seems the GOP is out in full force sharing the talking points du jour: why is this news? LOL

Is diabetes or high blood pressure contagious, let alone highly contagious? NO\\

That said, many people would have liked to ask Melissa Carone, with her under oath, if she was drunk while testifying or if she would have been willing to take a field sobriety test, based on her slurred speech, aggressive stance, and effusive non sequiturs.

You don't know the difference between a private company and government institution?

Thu, 12/10/2020 - 1:13pm

In response to Why Public: The public isn't entitled to know the names of the legislators who are positive but, we are entitled to know the number of infections. The taxpayers have to pay for Republican shenanigans, fake "hearings", etc. and thus should have access to how well (or in this case how badly) the legislature behaves in spreading this virus. HIPPA does not apply to people who make public admissions. Comparing this to other non-communicable health conditions is laughable. Weren't powers just removed from "Dictator Whitmer"? In no way would she have the authority to make anyone publicly disclose their personal health status. Your vitriol is affecting your rationality.

Thu, 12/10/2020 - 10:26am

I'm not sure if this story is an attempt to shame them? Who knows. In other news, everyone else is getting it also, mask wearers included. Tired of politicians doing everything they can to create divisions.

Thu, 12/10/2020 - 11:54am

You sound like Trump and the Wizard of Oz: Nothing to see here folks!

Meanwhile the GOP hosts more superspreader events.

A Yooper
Thu, 12/10/2020 - 10:31am

One can only surmise the MI GOP legislators believe COVID-19 is fake news?

Come clean
Thu, 12/10/2020 - 11:28am

The problem with the Trump election is the utter lack of transparency. For example, where are the transcripts from the meeting between Trump, Shirkey, Chatfield, and the other Repbulican Michigan legislators who met secretly with Trump, at his summoning post election, indulging in Trump hotel accommodations where they drank expensive French champagne? What else was discussed, promised covid therapies should they or their family members get ill?

Chatfield chess
Thu, 12/10/2020 - 11:58am

Maybe Chatfield is just trying to keep the GOP from being able to accommodate Trump, feeling pressure from him to assign GOP electors. Maybe Chatfield is smarter than we give him credit. He's too weak to stand up to Trump so instead he's just shutting down our government until Monday.