South Dakota House given OK to attend remotely due to virus

SIOUX FALLS (AP) – Members of the South Dakota House of Representatives received the go-ahead to attend floor sessions remotely after an eighth reported positive COVID-19 test among the legislative body in as many days.

Republican House Speaker Spencer Gosch told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader in a text message that “if a legislator has been exposed” they are allowed to attend remotely because of temporary rules passed at the start of the session.

Democratic House Minority Leader Jamie Smith said Gosch told the House members Sunday that because of the amount of spread in the Capitol, all lawmakers should consider themselves exposed,

“We are all considered close contacts,” Smith said.

The temporary rules also called for mandatory mask use by the public and lobbyists during Senate proceedings. While masks aren’t mandatory in the House, they are “strongly encouraged,” according to signs posted around the building in Pierre.

During the first four weeks of the session, which began Jan. 12, no lawmaker was known to have received a positive diagnosis for the coronavirus. Republican Rep. Aaron Aylward, of Harrisburg, became the first to be diagnosed with COVID-19, which was reported Feb. 7. Seven more followed in the House.

With the latest positive cases, more than 30 lawmakers are now known to have or have had the coronavirus. At least 16 representatives have publicly acknowledged having had the virus at some point.