News Briefs

Conservative caucus staffer tests positive for COVID; Two Missouri senators in quarantine

By: - January 26, 2021 1:23 pm

A view of the Missouri Senate chamber from the visitors gallery (photo courtesy of the Missouri Senate).

A staffer for the Missouri Senate’s conservative caucus has tested positive for COVID-19, and two state senators announced that they will quarantine because of possible exposure.

Republican Sen. Bill Eigel will self isolate after coming into close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, he announced Tuesday afternoon.

Eigel participated in a committee hearing Tuesday, and was seen on the Senate floor during session, without wearing a mask. According to his statement, he learned about the close contact Tuesday.

He did not specify in his statement who he was in close contact with that exposed him to the virus.

But in a text message to The Independent, Jim Lembke — a former state senator who works for the Senate conservative caucus — confirmed that he tested positive Tuesday morning.

“Symptoms started in the middle of the night,” Lembke said, adding: “Low grade fewer. Chills and headache. Soreness.”

Lembke said he left the Capitol at 5 p.m. on Monday and hasn’t returned since.

Eigel said in his statement that “out of an abundance of caution, I am following the CDC guidelines and protocols related to close contact exposure to COVID-19. I will self-isolate and monitor for symptoms. At this time, I have no symptoms.”

The news of Eigel’s exposure comes days after another member of the conservative caucus, Republican Sen. Andrew Koenig, announced he’d tested positive for COVID-19. Both Eigel and Koenig have been outspoken in their criticism of restrictions intended to limit the spread of COVID-19.

A third member of the conservative caucus, Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, posted on Facebook on Monday that she was sick all weekend.

“My first thought was COVID!!!!” She posted. “So I went and got tested and it was negative. I am hoping to feel better soon.”

Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, released a statement Tuesday afternoon announcing that he would also be in quarantine.

“On Friday, a member of the Senate Conservative Caucus tested positive for COVID-19. On Monday, members of that caucus and its staff returned to the Capitol. Many of these individuals continued to not wear masks,” Rizzo said. “Today, we learned that one of those individuals has tested positive for COVID-19.”

Rizzo said he was part of a meeting on Monday that included his staffer and Lembke, and “although my staff member and I wore masks, other attendees did not. Given the size of the room and length of the meeting, my staff member and I will both be quarantining.”

The Missouri House cancelled last week’s session because of a COVID-19 outbreak among members and staff. The latest positive cases in the Senate come just a day before Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is scheduled to address a joint session of the House and Senate for his annual State of the State speech.

Sen. Doug Beck, D-St. Louis County, questioned why the legislature hasn’t mandated masks inside the Capitol — especially when lawmakers will be gathering in mass for Parson’s speech Wednesday.

“I don’t want to make this political, but at this point it’s a safety issue,” Beck said. “Every day it seems like someone else is coming down with it.”

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Jason Hancock
Jason Hancock

Jason Hancock has spent two decades covering politics and policy for news organizations across the Midwest, with most of that time focused on the Missouri statehouse as a reporter for The Kansas City Star. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he helped launch The Missouri Independent in October 2020.