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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

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

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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