LaRose tests positive for coronavirus, state officials possibly exposed

·4 min read

Jan. 25—COLUMBUS — Members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission — which includes some of the highest officers in state government — were potentially exposed to coronavirus over the weekend as they met to pass new state legislative maps.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose tested positive for the virus Monday after experiencing minor symptoms Sunday night. His office said he has experienced mild symptoms, but he is quarantining.

He worked on Saturday with Gov. Mike DeWine, Auditor Keith Faber, Senate President Matt Huffman (R., Lima), House Speaker Bob Cupp (R., Lima), Senate Minority Leader Vernon Sykes (D., Akron), and House Minority Leader-elect Allison Russo (D., Upper Arlington) to send a new set of maps for state House and Senate seats to the Ohio Supreme Court.

"Leader Russo was notified of the exposure, has received the vaccine booster, and will follow current [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance for close exposure," House Democratic spokesman Maya Majikas said.

"This includes wearing a mask for 10 days and monitoring closely for any symptoms," she said. "She has instructed staff to follow House policy for COVID-19 exposure."

Ms. Russo was the commissioner seated closest to Mr. LaRose during the meeting, but they were still several seats apart. She wore a mask throughout the meeting, even while asking questions, while Mr. LaRose did not. Mask usage was sporadic among the commissioners.

Legislative staff, redistricting advocates, and reporters had also been present on Saturday when the commission debated and passed maps.

Mr. LaRose has been fully vaccinated and boosted. He has postponed all of his public events scheduled for the week.

"Fortunately, I feel fine," he said. "I even went on a 6.5-mile run on Sunday evening, but after continuing to experience some very mild symptoms, I figured it was best to take a test and be sure."

DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said the governor and Mr. LaRose were never in close contact on Saturday.

"In the redistricting commission he and the secretary were on exact opposite ends of the room, 30 to 40 feet apart," he said. "They were not facing each other. They were not considered to be in close contact.

"The governor wears a mask when not speaking, and he's boosted," Mr. Tierney said. "The guidance is that someone in that situation does have to quarantine."

He said the governor and secretary of state were not involved in close meetings as discussions over maps continued throughout the day Saturday.

The governor and First Lady Fran DeWine have quarantined in the past after learning they'd been in close contact with people who later tested positive. He also had a scare in 2020 when a rapid test he took prior to a planned meeting with then-President Donald Trump resulted in a false positive.

The governor recently turned 75 and has asthma, both of which would place him at higher risk.

The Ohio Hospital Association reported that the number of Ohioans hospitalized with coronavirus has dropped 19 percent over the last day and those in the intensive-care unit by 21 percent. One in every four of the 5,222 patients in hospitals has tested positive for coronavirus, down from 1 in three.

But the state Department of Health reported high numbers of new deaths, hospitalizations, and ICU admissions on Tuesday. There were 502 deaths, the ultimate lagging indicator, reported on Tuesday as well as above-average hospitalization and ICU numbers, at 565 and 45, respectively.

The number of newly reported infections, however, was artificially low because of technical issues in reporting from laboratories.

To date, 65 percent of all Ohioans age 5 and older who are eligible for vaccines have gotten at least their first shot with 59.6 percent are fully vaccinated.

Faber spokesman Allie Dumski said the Republican auditor was also not in close proximity to Mr. LaRose.

"Fortunately, the auditor feels good and hasn't experienced any symptoms to date," she said. "If that changes, we will certainly make the necessary adjustments to the auditor's schedule.

When asked if Mr. Huffman was taking new precautions given the news, Senate Republican spokesman John Fortney said simply..., "we wish the Secretary a quick recovery."

Both the House and Senate are scheduled to be in session on Wednesday.

First Published January 25, 2022, 10:01am