By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
Another state representative has tested positive for COVID-19 after last week’s House session at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Manchester, bringing the total known cases from that event to six.
Rep. James Allard, R-Pittsfield, wasn’t able to present his bill HB 1256 on Friday but asked a colleague to read a letter to the House State-Federal Relations and Veterans Affairs committee saying he had COVID-19.
“Due to a positive Covid test following last week’s full session, I will be unable to be with you for the hearings scheduled for the 14th,” Allard wrote.
Two House members who have medical backgrounds believe the session may have turned into a super-spreader event because it was indoors where House members could sit in a mask-optional section or mask required section and in close proximity.
On Sunday, House Speaker Sherman Packard told House members, not the public, that two unnamed House members had tested positive after the sessions. Since then he has refused to say how many other members have notified him that they have COVID.
Three Democratic House members confirmed to InDepthNH.org Tuesday and Thursday that they had tested positive after the session.
Rep. Brodie Deshaies, R-Wolfeboro, read Allard’s letter to the committee. And reached by phone, Allard said he was vaccinated and boosted and wore a mask at the session.
“Obviously I’m not in suitable condition to attend any hearings, but I’m like a lot of folks at this time,” Allard said.
In the note, he said: “Please accept my apologies for being unable to be with you for the hearing. Suffice it to say, you are all better off if I remain sequestered at home for a few more days.”
The number of House members who tested positive for COVID-19 after the session have been made public in dribs and drabs, not by the Speaker, the last four by the state Representatives themselves.
Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, also hasn’t responded to requests for an interview, although at least one state senator is said to have tested positive.
Rep. Bill Marsh, D-Brookfield, a physician, said Thursday, “I think we have a super-spreader event.”
Marsh said he was told that enough cases had been identified during the two-day session that the state is investigating.
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services didn’t respond to questions about the investigation.
Marsh and Rep. Jeffrey Salloway, D-Lee, an epidemiologist, warned before the House met of the possibility of a super-spreader event.
About the state’s investigation, Salloway said Friday what to expect next.
“They should be doing contact tracing, making phone calls to people,” Salloway said.
On Tuesday, state Rep. Chuck Grassie, D-Rochester, said he tested positive for COVID-19.
And on Thursday, Rep. Suzanne Vail and Rep. Frances Nutter-Upham, both of Nashua, said they, too, tested positive for COVID-19, all with at-home antigen tests.
Like Grassie, Vail and Nutter-Upham, who were all fully vaccinated, are convinced they were infected at the House session. The House was divided in the room last Wednesday and Thursday by mask-optional and mask required seating with Republicans mostly taking up the mask-optional seating.
The House is awaiting a 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.