Three days later, Rendon and several other legislators are now in quarantine and will miss floor sessions both in the Senate and Assembly until next week after attending another member’s going-away party the night before a state senator in attendance tested positive for COVID-19.
Several legislators attended a farewell event Tuesday night for former Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) at a downtown Sacramento hotel. Legislative sources who asked not to be identified told The Times that at least a dozen lawmakers were on hand for the celebration. Gonzalez resigned from the Assembly on Wednesday to take a job with the California Labor Federation. She is expected to be chosen as the labor group’s leader this summer.
The morning after the party, state Sen. Josh Becker (D-Menlo Park) announced that he had tested positive for the virus. It’s unclear what safety protocols were in place at the event, but Becker said he is fully vaccinated and boosted and was wearing an N95 mask while at the party. He said he had tested negative for several days before Wednesday’s positive result.
“In fact, on Tuesday I tested negative that morning and tested negative again, right before attending,” Becker said in a statement. “I’m grateful to have had access to tests and urge their broader availability for everyone, in addition to continued widespread availability of the vaccine and booster shots in our communities.”
Gonzalez did not respond to requests for comment from The Times.
The California Department of Public Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not recommend quarantine for those who come into close contact with a positive case as long as they are fully vaccinated and, if eligible, have received a booster shot. Anyone exposed should instead test after five days and wear masks around others for 10 days.
“While CDPH guidelines do not require isolation for vaccinated and boosted individuals following potential exposure, out of an abundance of caution, the speaker is asking members who attended last night’s event to stay home from session tomorrow. They will test again Monday morning before being admitted to floor session,” Rendon spokeswoman Katie Talbot said in a Wednesday statement. “The speaker did attend this event. He is staying home from session tomorrow.”
Senate Secretary Erika Contreras also said Wednesday that “anyone in the Senate at last night’s gathering has been instructed to begin quarantine for five days and then PCR test,” and would also miss Thursday’s floor session.
Legislators are quarantining as California grapples with the worst surge in COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. California recorded a 21.3% test positivity rate on Wednesday, largely due to the Omicron variant. The same day, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly warned of an overwhelmed hospital system as the state has averaged more than 28,000 new cases per day. Ghaly said the state would extend its mask mandate, which was set to be reevaluated Jan. 15, by another month.
Members of the state Senate and Assembly are not required to be vaccinated, though the majority are. In a Times survey conducted last summer, only 12 members, 11 of them Republican, declined to provide their vaccination status. Last year, Rendon instituted a vaccine mandate for staffers, and both houses require masks.
Legislators and essential staff also have to test at least twice a week regardless of vaccination status, and unvaccinated staff are also required to test that often. As of October, the Assembly had reached a 95% immunization rate and the Senate a 93.5% rate for workers in Sacramento.
Still, infections are abundant in and around the Capitol. Human resources personnel send staffers a new memo nearly every day alerting them to a COVID-19 infection in the building. At least a dozen employees who work in Sacramento have tested positive for COVID-19 this week.
Effective Friday, the Senate is limiting members to one in-person staffer per office due to the number of statewide infections. All other employees will work remotely.