Fourth COVID Case Reported at Iowa Capitol Where Masks Are Encouraged, Not Required

A third and fourth case of COVID have been reported at the Iowa State Capitol, where safety protocols require representatives to be physically present—but do not require anyone at the building to wear a mask, nor disclose a positive test result.

Democrat Rep. Amy Nielsen revealed her diagnosis in an email to House members and staff on Saturday, when she also advised that another, unidentified, person had tested positive after visiting the building in Des Moines on Friday.

It comes after earlier positive diagnosis of two unnamed individuals said to "associated" with the statehouse this month. The first tested positive on January 15, while the other diagnosis was revealed on Thursday, The Des Moines Register reported.

In her email, seen by the newspaper, Nielsen wrote: "Out of respect for all the people who work in the Capitol, and to be completely transparent, I decided to inform you all directly via email because I want you and your family to stay safe and healthy."

Nielsen later told the Register that she wore two masks inside the building, visited the site as little as possible, and had otherwise only visited the grocery store.

She added that she had stopped weekend trips home to North Liberty to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. "While I miss them dearly, I am so thankful that we made that decision and I don't have to feel responsible for bringing COVID into my home," she said.

A statewide mask mandate has been in place in Iowa since mid-November after cases skyrocketed. However, the Capitol's own safety protocols do not insist they are worn.

The guidelines, set by set by Republican leadership, encourage but do not require lawmakers, workers or visitors to the building to wear face coverings. They also recommend, but do not require, anyone to disclose a positive COVID test result.

"Masks and face shields will be made available at the Capitol for those who voluntarily want to wear a mask," the protocols state. They encourage people to report positive COVID test results, but add that "self-identifying is not mandatory."

Labor groups allege the building is an unsafe place to work and filed a complaint with safety officials last week.

Nielsen is also calling for more stringent, compulsory safety rules at the statehouse. "Wearing a mask is an important step in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in combination with appropriate social distancing," she told the Register via text.

"While I believe I did all I could to prevent contracting the virus, the environment at the Capitol is not ideal for preventing transmission."

There have been 319,110 COVID cases and 4,651 COVID-19 deaths reported in Iowa since the start of the U.S. epidemic, John Hopkins University data shows.

Iowa was among a handful of states not to issue a statewide "stay-at-home" mandate earlier in the coronavirus crisis.

Iowa Statehouse in Des Moines
This file photo shows the Iowa Statehouse in Des Moines reflecting the sunset on November 6, 2018. Exisiting protocals do not require lawmakers, staff or visitors to wear face coverings inside the building. David Greedy/Getty