Democrats’ letter prompted a pledge to at least resume temperature checks at the NC General Assembly building.
Temperature checks at the NC General Assembly will resume after state Senate Democrats wrote a blistering letter condemning a lack of COVID-19 safety measures at the legislative building.
Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue’s office shared a copy Wednesday of a reply from Paul Coble, legislative services officer, in which he pledged to reinstate temperature checks.
Democrats said the temperature checks were suspended “without notice or explanation” Monday, one of multiple complaints Blue’s caucus made in a letter Tuesday to Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, the chamber’s Republican leader.
Among those complaints, Sen. Terry Van Duyn, an Asheville Democrat, reported unmasked staffers attempting to take her temperature, an unmasked sergeant at arms passing out masks in legislative chambers, committee rooms that don’t allow for proper social distancing, and frequent groups in the building not observing social distancing.
From Democrats’ letter:
“On May 28, Mr. Coble updated members and staff on new cleaning measures, stressing that, ‘we will continue to make sure that you have a safe, secure and clean working environment.’
As of Monday, North Carolina reported at least 45,113 cases of COVID-19, 1,140 confirmed deaths from the virus, and at least 797 people hospitalized. People 65 and older account for 82 percent of deaths in our state.
Mr. Coble’s words of assurances are directly contradicted by his actions. The decision to end daily health screenings two days after Senator Van Duyn shared her concerns is alarming and warrants a public explanation.
Mr. Coble’s actions call into question the sincerity of his words to staff and members that he has ‘taken the threat of the Coronavirus very seriously.’
Additionally, leadership has taken unexplained actions to end health guidelines from state and federal experts, including an unannounced end to social distancing seating for members in the Senate chamber.
We ask Mr. Coble to explain his actions and to reinstate daily temperature checks immediately. We also ask that social distancing seating in the Senate chamber be restored for the remainder of session.”
Safety measures in state houses have been a hot topic in recent weeks, after Pennsylvania Democrats blasted GOP lawmakers in their chambers for allegedly covering up a confirmed COVID-19 case in the Republican caucus.
In Coble’s response to Democrats, he wrote that he’d ceased temperature checks because there hadn’t been any instances of an elevated temperature in the previous six weeks.
Still, NC is in the midst of a surge in new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, prompting concerns that the state could walk back a plan to ease restrictions and impose a mandatory mask rule in public spaces as other states have done.
Coble defended his office’s handling of the matter in his response.
From Coble’s letter:
“We have made every effort to clean the building on an enhanced basis, provided hand sanitizing products despite limited supplies, made PPEs available on demand and instituted temperature checks to diminish risk of exposure. We encouraged individuals to stay at home if they or a family member showed any symptoms and allowed staff members to work from home, if possible.
While many of the cleaning and safety measures employed are not obvious to a casual observer, they are very effective. The addition of electrostatic cleaners has helped us clean and prepare spaces for use on a more expedient basis, and the efforts by ISD to arrange and provide for remote meetings has provided many members and staff the opportunity to keep safe distances when desired.
Our continued efforts have resulted in well over a million dollars in added expenses to our budget, and we remain committed to our efforts.
Please understand that I have no control over the actions of members, Sgt. At Arms, or members’ staffs. Nor do I have the ability to monitor or enforce social distancing in the chamber or in committee rooms among members. Those issues are best addressed directly with the membership and leadership.”
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