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Silas Walker, KSL, File

Lawmakers advised to ‘self-isolate’ after state senator tests positive for new virus

By Lisa Riley Roche, KSL | Posted - Mar. 23, 2020 at 3:33 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers are being advised to self-isolate after Senate Minority Whip Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, announced she has tested positive for the new coronavirus, just over a week after the end of the Legislature’s 2020 session.

But there’s no doubt there will be a special session of the Legislature sometime before the new budget year begins July 1. A resolution changing legislative rules passed last session as the threat of COVID-19 was becoming clearer permits lawmakers to meet remotely.

“There will have to be a special session because our revenue numbers are going to change,” Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, told KSL. “No layoffs are being talked out but absolutely budget cuts. There will have to be budget cuts.”

The money already set aside for a rainy day in the state’s new $20 billion budget isn’t going to be enough, Adams said, given the economic challenges posed by the pandemic. He said more data will be needed before lawmakers take action.

Calls and emails went out to legislators Sunday night after being alerted by Escamilla, who said in a statement that she began experiencing symptoms Friday evening, was tested for COVID-19 and was informed Sunday her test came back positive.

“My family and I are quarantined and taking every precaution to avoid spreading the virus. As someone who has asthma, this is a scary diagnosis, but I am confident that I will make a full recovery,” Escamilla said, describing herself as “pretty sick right now” but continuing to work to ensure vulnerable Utahns are not being overlooked.

The state “must take immediate steps to remove the threat of evictions and fees in the event that people are unable to pay rent. We must also identify and address the needs of the truckers, food service workers, grocery workers, child care providers and others who are proving that they are indeed essential employees,” she said.

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Escamilla, who ran last year for Salt Lake City mayor, said, “This is a challenging time and there is a lot of uncertainty, but we will get through this. In the meantime, please take this seriously. Even if you are young and healthy, please practice social distancing. If you can stay home, please do.”

Adams commended Escamilla and her family “for self-quarantining and taking precautions to avoid spreading the virus” in an email to members of the Senate that recommends they “take the necessary precautions and seek medical advice if any additional action should be taken.”

He wrote that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “recommends a 14-day self-isolation since the last time you were in contact with someone who tested positive or contact with their work area.” The 45-day session of the Utah Legislature ended at midnight on March 12.

The Senate president also said in the email that once the session ended, “the Capitol closed to the public and the Senate and all legislative offices implemented teleworking. Capitol facilities thoroughly disinfected the entire Capitol complex and additional cleaning is being done daily.”

Adams said he hasn’t heard of anyone else showing symptoms of the virus or testing positive for it.

In the House, representatives were contacted by phone about Escamilla testing positive for the virus, said Abby Osborne, chief of staff to House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville. She said “for those who had contact with her in the last two weeks — we’ve advised them to self-isolate.”

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