The Phoenix Flyer

FL House Speaker advises on safety measures: ‘Don’t come’ if you test positive

By: - January 11, 2022 5:33 pm

Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls addressed COVID-19 issues during press event on Jan. 11, 2022. Credit: Florida Channel/Screenshot

As the more transmissible omicron variant continues to circulate across the state, Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls on Tuesday appeared unconcerned about potential COVID-19 outbreaks during the legislative session that oftentimes brings large crowds into the Florida Capitol.

At a press briefing Tuesday afternoon, Sprowls was asked about any specific safety measures that the Florida House will take following members testing positive for COVID-19.

Sprowls, a Republican representing part of Pinellas County, told reporters that if lawmakers feel sick “don’t come” to the House but didn’t offer any specific details about protocols to combat any potential outbreaks.

“If a members’ test is positive, don’t come. If you feel sick, get a test before you come back to work and you’re around your colleagues,” Sprowls said. “But if you don’t feel sick then we’ll have to see.”

As previously reported by the Florida Phoenix, the 2022 session launched with no restrictions in place to prevent the spread of the virus, such as face mask or weekly testing requirements. That raised concerns from some Democratic lawmakers who fear the events could lead to more cases.

Health officials said the omicron variant, first detected in South Africa in 2021, has rapidly become the dominant variant in the United States, triggering nationwide COVID-19 surges and some K-12 schools and college closures, requiring remote learning.

As of Tuesday, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 47,709 new COVID-19 cases based on Jan. 10 data. Heading into the 2022 legislative session, new cases were as high as 77,156, on Jan. 8.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has been against any lockdowns or closures of schools, even as Florida reached high case counts over the past few weeks. In fact, the Republican governor criticized school closures imposed by some officials in other states, during his annual State of the State address Tuesday. That said, in the early months of the pandemic, schools were shut down in Florida. DeSantis has regretted that move.

At the presser, Sprowls pointed to the omicron variant causing less severe illness compared to other transmissible versions of the coronavirus, such as the delta variant. He acknowledged that the state could continue to see a surge in cases.

“The University of Florida says we can expect a peak now or the next week or so,” Sprowls said. “No question that this strain has been probably the most contagious of all of them, it feels like almost everyone is getting this at some point.” Still, the Legislature did not mandate masks, social distancing or there restrictions.

He continued: “The good news is that we are not seeing hospitalizations go up, we are not seeing people get super sick like we had with some of these other variants where was real challenges… I think that’s probably a combination of a number of things, probably have to do with a number of people are vaccinated, has to do with the fact that this strain seems to be a weaker strain of the virus. So as a result of that we govern ourselves accordingly.”

However, CDC officials show that hospitalizations are going up, including  including an alarming rate of hospitalizations among children.

In Florida, the number of people hospitalized is 10,792, based on Tuesday figures at the Florida Hospital Association. The day before, the figure was 9,579.

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.