By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
State Rep. Chuck Grassie, D-Rochester, said he has tested positive for COVID-19 and is certain he contracted it during the House sessions last week at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Manchester.
That brings the total to three House members that are now known to have tested positive after the sessions last Wednesday and Thursday.
“I did everything prior to the session and was virtually quarantined. I tested the night before the House met and was negative,” Grassie said. “This was something I caught there. There is no other way I could have gotten it.”
House Speaker Sherman Packard wouldn’t say Tuesday if there are others who have tested positive.
Rep. Bill Marsh, D-Brookfield, a physician, warned last week before the sessions of the possibility of a super-spreader event.
Today Marsh said: “More cases have turned up as well.”
He said he hopes the Commissioner of Health and Human Services will investigate pursuant to RSA 141-C:4 II, which says, “The commissioner shall: Investigate outbreaks of communicable diseases under RSA 141-C:9.”
He continued: “It would be entirely reasonable for other members of the public to request the Commissioner do her duty as required by law.”
Grassie said he couldn’t stop coughing and had a severe headache, took an at-home test and was positive.
He works part-time nights in retail stocking shelves where he doesn’t have to interact with people, but he will not be heading back to work until he gets a negative test at least and wasn’t sure if he had to quarantine after that.
Grassie is in his eighth term in the House and served 30 years on the city council and seven years as the town planner in Stratham.
He was upset that some Republicans refuse to wear a mask and don’t get vaccinated. He wore a KN95 mask during Wednesday’s and Thursday’s sessions.
“On Monday late afternoon I started this crazy cough…,” Grassie said. He said he spoke with the Speaker’s office on Tuesday.
Grassie said he is fully vaccinated and boosted and thinks his case will be relatively mild. He is isolated in his home office so as to not infect his wife, who has tested negative, and his 90-year-old mother who lives with them.
“Neither of them had contact with anyone else,” he said.
At the House sessions, he wore his KN95 mask and had limited contact with House members in the mask optional section, once in which he had to speak with House Clerk Paul Smith.
“One person during the session Thursday said COVID is over. It doesn’t exist. A lot of people think it’s a bad cold and they don’t get tested,” Grassie said. “I have COVID I caught it at the session. This needs to be known and I took all the precautions.”
“They don’t have the freedom to choose to make me sick,” Grassie said.
Rep. Suzanne Vail, D-Nashua, said she has gotten sick since the sessions, but tested negative for COVID-19 in the home test kit and is trying to get a PCR test.
“I have a cough, a sore throat, headache, chills and I’m exhausted,” Vail said. She believes hers is a relatively mild case if it is COVID-19. Her father died from COVID-19 earlier in the year.
“I hope it’s not COVID-19 because I visited my aunt over the weekend. I felt crappy yesterday and couldn’t stop coughing,” Vail said.
On Sunday, the House Communications office notified House members about the first two positive tests but did not release the information to the public or name the two members.
The message to members sent Sunday said, “both individuals were able to assist us in identifying their close contacts at the event. Those close contacts were notified separately by phone and/or email.”
Out of an abundance of caution, the message said, House leadership was notifying all House members.
Before last week’s sessions, two House members who are medical professionals, raised concerns about the possibility of causing a super-spreader event with so many of the 400-member House in attendance where there were mask-optional and mask required sections.
It was mostly Democrats wearing masks and Republicans without masks.
“I hate being correct,” said Rep. Jeffrey Salloway, D-Lee, an epidemiologist after the House told members of the first two positive cases. Salloway didn’t attend because of the risk to his health.
If it is the Omicron virus, it has the potential of one person infecting three others, he said.
On Tuesday, the state Department of Health and Human Services said 90 percent of the new infections statewide were from Omicron.
Rep. Marsh said after the first two cases were known: “(T) this is exactly what we would expect if the House Session turns out to have been a super-spreader event.”
He said the sessions were held without regard to CDC guidelines.
Before the sessions, Marsh and Salloway expressed concern the sessions could turn into a super-spreader event, due to the surge in the highly contagious Omicron variant, the state’s high community transmission rates and the fact that some Republican representatives refuse to wear masks or be vaccinated.
There has still been no ruling in a federal lawsuit filed by a number of medically at-risk Democrats, including Minority Leader Renny Cushing of Hampton, last year to allow remote participation citing the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The U.S. District Court judge sided with Speaker Packard, but that decision was overturned by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. A rehearing was requested by Packard, was granted and held, but a decision has yet to be released.