State Sen. Josh Becker, D-Menlo Park
State Sen. Josh Becker, D-Menlo Park, speaks to media about reopening schools at Barron Park Elementary in Palo Alto on March 2, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier/Palo Alto Online

Potential COVID exposure at impromptu gathering sidelines legislators

Multiple members of the California Legislature, including Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, are absent today after potential COVID-19 exposure at a going-away event for colleague this week.

Nearly three dozen state lawmakers were absent from floor sessions this morning after many of them, including Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, were potentially exposed to the coronavirus at a farewell event for a colleague on Tuesday night.

Representatives for the state Senate and Assembly would not confirm exactly how legislators were asked to stay home on Thursday due to the exposure. But Sen. Josh Becker, a Menlo Park Democrat who was at the Tuesday night event and then tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday morning, said “maybe a dozen lawmakers in total” were hanging out at a hotel in downtown Sacramento where many of them stay while in town, an “impromptu get-together” for former Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez after she announced her resignation on Monday.

“Certainly there were some people that had to quarantine because they were exposed to me,” Becker told CalMatters.

Gonzalez did not return a call, but in a tweet, she said she is fully vaccinated and has tested negative since the event, where she wore an N95 mask when she wasn’t eating or drinking.

The mass exposure further complicates the start of a new legislative session, with a looming deadline at the end of this month to act on any bills that did not advance out of their house of origin last year. Should a large number of members ultimately test positive for COVID-19, the authors of those measures may find themselves short of crucial votes.

Two other lawmakers also announced this week that they had tested positive for or been exposed to COVID-19, and the Senate on Thursday limited offices to one staff member per day, with the rest told to work from home as the omicron variant propels another surge of coronavirus cases across California.

The Assembly reported 27 absences among its 80 members on Thursday, but a representative said more than half of those were requested earlier in the week and were not related to the Tuesday night event, including for paternity leave, illness and medical reasons.

Katie Talbot, a spokesperson for Rendon, said in an email that guidelines from the California Department of Health “do not require isolation for vaccinated and boosted individuals following potential exposure,” but “out of an abundance of caution, the Speaker asked Members who attended Tuesday’s event to stay home from session today.”

Rendon, a Lakewood Democrat, was among those who attended the event and stayed home, Talbot said. “They will test again Monday morning before being admitted to floor session.”

A representative for the Senate said eight of its 40 members were absent on Thursday, not all of which were linked to COVID exposure.

“Typically we do not disclose test results or who may be quarantined because testing positive is a medical diagnosis,” Secretary of the Senate Erika Contreras said in a statement. “Anyone in the Senate who was at the gathering has been instructed to begin quarantine for 5 days and then PCR test. They were not on the floor today.”

Representatives for Assemblymembers Steve Bennett, a Santa Barbara Democrat; Lisa Calderon, a City of Industry Democrat; Robert Rivas, a Salinas Democrat; Rudy Salas, a Bakersfield Democrat; and Chris Ward, a San Diego Democrat, confirmed their presence at the gathering Tuesday night to CalMatters.

All said that the legislators were vaccinated and boosted and had tested negative since being notified about their exposure.

A spokesperson for Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath, an Oceanside Democrat, said she was not at the farewell for Gonzalez, but has been quarantining at home this week after testing positive for COVID-19 during the legislative recess.

None of the other absent senators were at the event Tuesday night, according to them or their offices. But Sen. Ben Allen, a Santa Monica Democrat, said he stayed home because he had lunch outdoors with Becker on Monday. He has no symptoms and has tested negative twice, he said. Sen. Steve Glazer, an Orinda Democrat, said he was on mandatory quarantine after being exposed to a staff member with COVID-19.

Becker said because of regular testing requirements in the Legislature, he had tested negative for COVID-19 on Monday and again on Tuesday.

“I got a negative antigen test right before the event,” which involved members hanging out at a second-floor lounge at the Sheraton Grand Hotel, he said. Becker said he “had a mask on the whole time” at the event, as did many other attendees.

But on Wednesday morning, he tested again before a speaking engagement at a school, he said, and it came back positive. Becker, who has received the COVID-19 vaccine and booster, said he feels okay and will quarantine for 10 days, at the request of the Senate leadership.