A COVID-19 outbreak among the Connecticut Capitol Police has led to a partial shutdown of the state Capitol and Legislative Office Building, according to officials.
“Unfortunately, the Capitol Police have identified an outbreak of Covid 19 infections amongst several department members. Following the CDC guidelines, those officers have been placed on leave,” Jim Tamburro, head of Legislative Management, said in an email to staff Wednesday night.
The outbreak has reduced the ranks of the 42 member department by half.
That means through the rest of the month the buildings will only be partially open.
The buildings will be closed to both the public and staff on Thursday, Jan. 6. There will be modified building openings on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday through January. Employees have been asked to work remotely on Wednesdays and Fridays.
“On the dates the buildings are open there will be one public entry point,” Tamburro wrote. “Members of the public may enter the complex through the west entrance of the Legislative Office Building. Legislators and staff may enter the Capitol via the governor’s door vestibule and the LOB through the skywalk, terrace or west entrance.”
The partial closure comes at a time when legislative leaders are considering plans for the next session of the General Assembly, which begins on Feb. 9.
Right now, the public is only allowed on the first floor of the state Capitol and Legislative Office Building. Now lawmakers have to decide whether the people should have the ability to come to the building to testify in person.
“Zoom was widely popular so I think Zoom was part of the fabric of testifying to the legislature forever, I don’t think it will ever go away,” House Speaker Matt Ritter said Wednesday.
Ritter was unable to say whether in-person hearings are coming back immediately.
“It is I think everybody’s goal to have the building be open but it’s also everybody’s goal to keep people safe,” Ritter said.
When will a decision be made?
“As we get close to the end of January I think that by then we’ll need to make an assessment and inform everybody how we’re going to operate,” Senate President Martin Looney said.
Looney says they could have more in-person opportunities later in the session if COVID subsides.
“The conditions can change sometimes as the session goes along,” Looney added.
“Right now we’re having serious discussions about whether we start out virtual and we transition to sort of an in-person structure as things settle down,” House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said. .
Candelora said plans are fluid to account for situations like the one that came up on Wednesday with the Capitol Police.
“Being virtual is not working in my opinion from a legislative perspective and I think we all want to get back to normal as a legislature,” he said.
COVID might have other plans.
“There’s going to be a mask mandate for the foreseeable future. We may have to require a negative test at some point,” Ritter said. “We may make changes week by week. It may be very touch and go.”
Lawmakers plan to make an announcement at the end of January.