Confirmed virus cases increasing among Missouri lawmakers

Associated Press
The Missouri House Lounge is cordoned off on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, at the state Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo. The room, which is a popular tourist site because of its ornate paintings, has been closed to regular tours due to COVID-19 concerns. The House canceled its session this week after a coronavirus outbreak.

JEFFERSON CITY — The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Missouri Legislature is continuing to grow after lawmakers converged at the Capitol to begin their annual session. 

Four additional lawmakers told The Associated Press on Friday that they had contracted the virus, bringing the total to at least seven since the session began Jan. 6. The outbreak is among the larger ones being reported as state legislatures across the country get to work this month. 

The House canceled all work this week because of the virus. The Senate continued to meet. 

Among those confirming Friday that they had become ill with the disease was state Sen. Andrew Koenig. The Republican from St. Louis County had presented legislation Wednesday during a lengthy Senate committee hearing proposing to crack down on public health orders that limit the number of people who can gather in homes, businesses and places of worship. Koenig also was present Thursday for the Senate's short session.

Although Koenig said he believes he caught the virus from his wife, some other lawmakers said they likely came down with it at the Capitol. 

"We got sworn in that week before with people from all over the state. I'd say there's a pretty good chance," said Rep. Jeff Knight, a Republican from Lebanon who said he just completed his isolation period after testing positive for COVID-19. 

With hundreds of people working in the Capitol, "unfortunately, it was bound to happen," said Rep. Dan Houx, a Republican from Warrensburg who contracted the virus last week. 

Republican Rep. Craig Fishel, of Springfield, said he tested positive for COVID-19 after the first week of the legislative session, but he doesn't view its prevalence among lawmakers as anything different than what's going on in communities across the nation. He's ready for the House to resume its work.

"There's business that we have to take care of," Fishel said.

At least 19 Missouri lawmakers have confirmed they have had COVID-19 at some point since last March, according to an AP tally. Nationwide, the AP has counted about 300 state lawmakers who tested positive for the virus.