By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — A House member is claiming she was infected with COVID19 at a sub-committee meeting last week.
Rep. Nicole Klein Knight, D-Manchester, in a posting on Twitter Friday morning, said she was infected and in turn has infected her family and she blames House Speaker Sherman Packard for allowing sick members to participate without masks.
Her Twitter posting reads, “I’m positive for covid. Most due to the fact the @NHSpeaker allowed sick members to participate unmasked and come into contact and furthermore did not notify me, I since infected my entire family. If there is any legal action I can take I would appreciate help.”
Packard has insisted committees meet in person and has not allowed members who believe their lives would be at risk to meet remotely rather than physically appear at the State House or Legislative Office Building.
Democrats have pushed for remote access since the session began in January. Remote access to committee meetings was allowed this spring, but once meetings began again this fall, Packard said members would have to attend committee meetings to participate and to vote.
A number of disabled or health compromised Democrats including House Minority Leader Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, sued the Speaker seeking to participate in House session remotely, but lost the initial ruling in US District Court. That decision was overturned by the 1st Circuit Court on appeal and sent back to US District Court to determine if the House members qualify under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act for special accommodations.
The Speaker asked the appeals court to reconsider and another hearing was held with a three-judge panel, but no decision has been released to date.
Contacted Friday about Klein Knight’s post the Speaker’s office released a statement saying there are no known cases of infected attendees appearing at committee meetings
“We’ve reached out to Rep. Klein Knight as part of our contact tracing process. There have been no known cases involving attendees at any meeting at the Legislative Office Building.”
However, Rep. Kevin Verville, R-Deerfield, posted on his Facebook page Wednesday “Only upside to having to deal with the Fauci Flu is good DX!”
He also thanked people for their “outpouring of compassion,” and confirmed in a response to a post he has COVID-19.
Verville attended a Rockingham delegation meeting last week and those in attendance were notified a member had tested positive for COVID-19, but did not name Verville.
He also attended a House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee sub committee meeting Sept. 28, where Klein Knight believes she was infected. She began to feel ill Saturday and had a rapid test that cost her her entire salary for the two years as representative, $200, but tested negative.
She had a lab test when she returned to New Hampshire which came back positive Friday.
She said the Speaker’s office told her they did not notify her about Verville, because he said he did not come in contact with her.
“I feel like I don’t have a right to be protected,” Klein Knight said, “the Speaker has made it impossible to protect myself.”
“This could wipe out my whole family,” Klein Knight said, “and the least the Speaker could do is notify me.”
She said if she had known she had been exposed, she would not have gone to visit her aunt, who has had several open heart surgeries.
She said she learned about her exposure from friends who saw Verville’s social media posts.
“I hope this is investigated by the Department of Health and Human Services,” she said, noting members come to meetings infected because there are no consequences from the Speaker’s office and they believe they are helping with herd immunity.
Cushing said an ad hoc committee of doctors have tried to convince the Speaker to allow remote or hybrid committee meetings.
“We’re in a situation now where we’re not following the CDC guidelines or best practices or our own protocols,” Cushing said. “They are meeting and not wearing masks and not separated by six feet, they are not doing that.”
He said they asked the Speaker to collect the names of people attending meetings so if someone does develop COVID-19, they would have a list to contact, but that is not being done.
He said part of the problem is there is no announcement or registry allowing members to know who is infected. The only way anyone knew Verville was infected was by following Facebook, Cushing said.
The doctors and other public health professionals on Cushing’s ad hoc committee sent a letter to the Speaker Friday afternoon, asking him to ensure the House engages in best practices to protect everyone.
“Where we are at right now,” Cushing said, “is we are still fighting the Speaker. I’m letting the public health professionals take the lead on this.”
According to the letter signed by seven representatives with medical backgrounds, most physicians, “clearly this demonstrates the current practice of in person meetings in the legislative office building is unsafe and risks the health and welfare of all representatives, their families, and the constituents they return home to.”
They asked the Speaker to resume remote committee participation, that all public health recommendations be followed including masking, social distancing and use of enhanced ventilation, and that symptomatic members be prohibited from in-person attendance at committees or legislative business, along with their earlier requests for precautions against spreading the virus.
The earlier letter asks that a proposed veto session to try to override the governor’s actions, not be held in Representatives Hall as the Speaker proposes and instead either be held in Bedford at the sportsplex used for session days or put off until the next session begins in January.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.