As lawmakers around the U.S. convene this winter to deal with the crisis created by the pandemic, statehouses themselves could prove to be hothouses for infection.
Many legislatures will start the year meeting remotely, but some Republican-controlled statehouses, from Montana to Pennsylvania, plan to hold at least part of their sessions in person, without requiring masks. Public health officials say that move endangers the safety of other lawmakers, staffers, lobbyists, the public and the journalists responsible for holding politicians accountable.
The risk is more than mere speculation: An ongoing tally by The Associated Press finds that more than 250 state lawmakers across the country have contracted COVID-19, and at least seven have died.
The Montana Legislature convened Monday without masking rules. The Republican majority shot down recent Democratic requests to hold the session remotely or delay it until vaccines are more widely available. Failing that, Democrats asked for requirements on masks and virus testing, which were also rejected.
Democratic lawmakers wore masks as they were sworn in. Few Republicans did the same.
“If the session is held without public health precautions, it is highly likely that the virus will spread in that environment, and it’s