One-third of AZ lawmakers at ‘high risk’ of coronavirus due to age

By: - March 17, 2020 2:37 pm
The state seal for Arizona

The state seal for Arizona on a door into the House of Representatives at the Capitol. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Public health authorities have warned against large gatherings and said that older Americans have a high risk falling seriously ill from the coronavirus, but the Arizona Legislature — where 30 of 90 lawmakers meet that age-based risk factor — will continue to meet through the end of the week.

In the Senate, 13 of the 30 lawmakers are at least 60 years old. In the House of Representatives, 17 of the 60 legislators are at least 60 years old. The median age of all Arizona lawmakers is 55. 

State legislators met Tuesday afternoon to continue work on a budget to keep state agencies operating. After that work is done, it is unclear if the legislature will end its work for the year or suspend its session until a later date. 

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said lawmakers and staff are following CDC guidelines to “be as prudent and cautious as possible” as the state and nation takes up measures to help prevent the infection and spread of the coronavirus pandemic, which causes the COVID-19 disease.  

But she said lawmakers must meet. 

“We also have a responsibility as elected officials to be down here to make sure we can… make sure government employees will get their paycheck, people on unemployment will get their monies, (recipients of cash welfare payments) can get their monies,” Fann told Arizona Mirror on Tuesday. “We have to have these safeguards in place for the protection of all of our citizens in Arizona, and that’s what we are trying to accomplish this week.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 17 legislatures have postponed their sessions. The legislative bodies in Arizona’s neighboring states California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah have either postponed their session, already adjourned sine die, or weren’t meeting in 2020, according to NCSL.

The Arizona Department of Health Services and Gov. Doug Ducey advised on Monday against large gatherings. Public schools in the state are closed. Phoenix announced Tuesday it recommends bars to close and restaurants have to do take-out or drive-through service only. 

The state legislature’s buildings are still open to the public, although tours were canceled and guest seating in the House and Senate galleries has been closed off. 

Fann, who is in the high-risk age group, pushed back when asked if she is concerned about the danger that meeting to do legislative work presents to lawmakers who are at higher risk for serious illness from the coronavirus because of their age. 

“We are trying very hard to protect the citizens of Arizona, as I said, to make sure that people get their paychecks, that they don’t get kicked out of their apartments, that they have adequate proper medical facilities. That is our job,” Fann said. “If you want to call me old, and say that I’m at higher risk, then OK, because I am here trying to do the people’s job to make sure they are taken care of.”

Guidelines issued by the White House advise older adults and people with chronic medical conditions that impair lung or heart function or weaken the immune system to stay home and away from other people. 

“Individuals older than 60 years and those with chronic medical conditions should not attend gatherings of more than 10 people due to their high risk of severe COVID-19 disease,” the Maricopa County Public Health website advises. 

The House on Tuesday approved a change to its rules to allow its members to “cast votes by technological means” if approved by Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers. The Senate ended its work on Tuesday without considering policies for remote voting amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Fann said the focus needs to be on lawmakers coming together to address a crisis quickly.

“Let’s take care of our people and work together,” Fann said. “Let’s get through this, let’s be positive, let’s find solutions to the problems so that we can just keep moving forward. because the quicker that we can get these problems resolved, and people get well again, the faster the economy is gonna start coming back, people can go back to work, kids can go back to school. 

“And that’s the goal right now: Solve the problem and get us back into recovery as quick as possible.”

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