Make your home page

Idaho Legislature halts session until April due to COVID-19 outbreak among lawmakers, staff

FILE - In this Wednesday, March 17, 2021, file photo, lawmakers in the House of Representative debate a bill in the Statehouse in Boise, Idaho. A fourth lawmaker in the Idaho House of Representatives in less than a week’s time has tested positive for COVID-19 just as the Legislature is debating a bill that would ban local governments from requiring that people wear masks. Republican Rep. Julie Yamamoto said Thursday, March 18, 2021, that she tested positive Wednesday afternoon and immediately left the Statehouse. (AP Photo/Keith Ridler, File via CNN)

 (CNN) — The Idaho Legislature has brought business to halt for the next two weeks amid an outbreak of Covid-19 among lawmakers and staff at the state Capitol.

The Idaho House and the Senate each voted Friday to recess and return on April 6. Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke, a Republican, told reporters during a news conference Friday that the Legislature adjourned out of an “abundance of caution” and to “break the cycle” of Covid-19 infections, according to CNN affiliate KBOI.

As of Friday morning, there were at least 10 confirmed cases of Covid-19 among House representatives, House staff, and Senate staff, according to the House Democratic leader’s office. KBOI reported that at least six House lawmakers had tested positive for Covid-19.

The pause in work comes as the state Capitol nears the end of its legislative session. Lawmakers still have a full plate of issues to consider, including a bill that would curb the governor’s emergency powers and a bill prohibiting local governments from mandating mask-wearing.

Democratic state lawmakers criticized their Republican colleagues for not taking proper precautions to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 so the legislature could continue with its work.

“We could have met remotely or worn masks and distanced reliably but no, we go home now and stop doing the peoples business,” Democratic state Sen. David Nelson tweeted.

The Idaho Democratic Party placed blame on the state GOP and Republican leadership for refusing to wear masks, adding in a tweet that “recessing won’t stop the spread. Masks will.”

CNN has reached out to Bedke’s office for additional comment.

The Idaho House and Senate’s Democratic leaders said Friday that they “hope our colleagues are able to heal quickly and return, so we can finish the session.”

“But we can’t help but be disappointed in how bad things have become at the Capitol, when we could’ve prevented this from becoming a hot spot all along,” House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel and Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett said in a joint statement.

Rubel told KBOI that lawmakers work in close spaces and very few of them wear masks, so it “seemed inevitable that this would happen.” She added that Democrats had previously advocated for “much more robust precautions” and even postponing the session until lawmakers could get vaccinated.

Rubel and Stennett warned Friday that the legislature “must do better when we return, or else we’ll keep finding ourselves in this position.”

Idaho has seen a 25% increase in daily new Covid-19 cases over the past two weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The state reported more than 380 new cases of Covid-19 on Friday, according to the Idaho Department of Health. Since the start of the pandemic, Idaho has reported more than 177,000 cases of Covid-19 and 1,941 deaths.

Earlier this month, about a hundred people gathered at the Idaho state Capitol for a “burn the mask” rally.