Questions arise about possible State House ‘super spreader’ after second GOP leader sickened by COVID-19

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Speaker Pro Tem Kimberly Rice posted an undated photo of her with House Speaker Dick Hinch on Facebook and wrote: “My friend and a true gentleman. When God made him he broke the mold. The world is a darker place tonight and my heart is broken. My thoughts and prayers are with the Speaker’s family.”

CONCORD, NH – House Speaker Pro Tem Kimberly Rice announced on social media that she was “struggling to breath (sic)” with COVID-19 Saturday as two special virus testing events for legislators, staff and families were held in the wake of House Speaker Dick Hinch’s death.

Rice, a Republican from Hudson, was appointed by Hinch, 71, who died from COVID-19 at his Merrimack home Wednesday. An unknown number of legislators and staffers, including a member of Gov. Chris Sununu’s staff, have tested positive for the virus, but the state hasn’t said exactly who or how many except for identifying Hinch’s death as being COVID-19-related.

At least four members of the House GOP caucus reportedly tested positive after a Nov. 20 gathering indoors at McIntyre Ski Area in Manchester. And there have been numerous Republican events since they took control of the House and Senate last month. At Organization Day Dec. 2 at UNH in Durham, about 80 Republicans did not wear masks.

House Democratic Leader Renny Cushing said the State House has now been closed to all legislative staff members who must work at home.

He raised the possibility that the State House has become a super spreader hotspot because of lawmakers being exposed to the virus there where some Republicans refused to wear masks, then spreading it when they return to their hometowns.

The State House was already closed to the public because of COVID-19.

Rice said on social media that her post was not the place to “debate covid.”

“This has been one of the toughest weeks I think I’ve ever had. I will beat covid… I’m logging off again because being on here is not good for my health. This post is also not a platform for anyone to debate covid, if you feel the need for that please keep it on your wall not mine because I’m too busy struggling to breath (sic) to fight with anyone,” Rice wrote.

Spokesmen for Gov. Chris Sununu and Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette didn’t immediately return requests for comment Sunday.

Cushing and Senate Democratic Leader Donna Soucy of Manchester asked for the special virus testing for all legislators and State House staffers in a letter to Sununu Friday and the drive-through testing was held in Concord and Londonderry on Saturday.

Cushing of Hampton said he understands that health matters are private, but believes in this case, more information needs to be made public.

“I think there needs to be transparency in this instance. Lawmakers have been exposed to people confirmed to have COVID-19 to the extent the third floor of the State House has become the problem. They assemble from throughout the state and come to Concord and Manchester where they meet with carriers who should be quarantining,” Cushing said, adding they could bring the virus back to their communities.

“I would like to be told who it was (that contracted the virus), how far the contamination has spread,” Cushing said. He was critical of “people who think they have the right to infect others. We should be setting an example.”

Some Republican lawmakers have refused to wear masks at the State House, even in offices where staffers are wearing masks, he said.

“They went into a town after the governor issued a mask ordinance and the town of Durham and university have ordinances thinking they were above any regulation. That’s arrogant and selfish,” Cushing said. “Legislators do not have the right to infect other people with COVID.”

“I feel very bad for all of the staff. This is their workplace,” Cushing said.

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