coronavirus illinois

Illinois House Speaker's Chief of Staff, 2 Others Test Positive for COVID-19 After Inauguration

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The chief of staff for the speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives and two others tested positive for COVID-19 Thursday, one day after lawmakers were inaugurated in Springfield.

Jessica Basham, who serves as chief of staff to newly elected Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch, informed all lawmakers and House staff Friday morning that she was a "confirmed positive" case.

"I have been tested daily, and yesterday I received notice that my rapid test was positive," Basham's email reads. "I have been made aware of 2 other confirmed positives, and my PCR results came back, confirming my own positive."

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate were inaugurated in a ceremony at the Bank of Springfield Center on Wednesday, during which Democrats who control the House elected Welch the first Black speaker in state history. Welch is also the first new House speaker in decades, ending powerful former Speaker Michael Madigan's time in the position that he's held for all but two years since 1983.

Basham - who also served as chief of staff for Madigan - said she had no symptoms Thursday morning but began to experience mild symptoms by the evening and was quarantining at home. She asked lawmakers and staff to self-isolate for 14 days.

Welch himself tested positive for COVID-19 in late November, saying at the time that he experienced symptoms including body aches and chills as he quarantined from his family within their home. Multiple other lawmakers have announced COVID-19 diagnoses over the course of the pandemic.

Basham's message came after an earlier note was sent on Thursday afternoon, notifying of a positive COVID-19 test of someone who was at the Bank of Springfield Center, which housed both inauguration on Wednesday and the lame duck legislative session of the previous General Assembly over the course of the week prior.

"All members and staff who were at the BoS Center today, or around someone who was, should self-quarantine," the email reads, adding that the guidance applied to "everyone in the building," including members of the media.

A spokesman for Senate President Don Harmon said in a statement Friday that further contact tracing indicated that there was "minimal contact" between the person who tested positive and Senate members and staff.

"To further clarify, we have been told the affected person was not on or near the Senate floor for inauguration and did not come into contact with any guests of the Senate Democratic Caucus," the statement from John Patterson reads. "We have also been told the affected person did not come into contact with any of the witnesses who testified before the Executive Committee or members of the press."

Patterson went on to say that none of the senators or staff were in close contact with the positive case in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which defines close contact as "within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more."

Illinois health officials on Friday reported 6,642 new coronavirus cases and 123 additional deaths attributed to the virus. The latest figures brought the total number of cases to 1,059,324 statewide and lifted the death toll to 18,049 since the pandemic began.

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