Longtime Grand Forks lawmaker, 3 legislative staffers test positive for COVID-19 after meetings

Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said he almost certainly caught the virus from "our petri dish called the Legislature" since he hadn't been anywhere else in the last two weeks.

010819.n.fns.forecast John Hageman photo
Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, addresses members of the North Dakota House and Senate appropriations committees Jan. 7, 2019. Forum News Service file photo
Forum News Service file photo

BISMARCK — State Sen. Ray Holmberg and three legislative staffers have tested positive for COVID-19 less than a week after the North Dakota Legislature's organizational session in Bismarck.

Holmberg, who turned 76 on Thursday, Dec. 10, said he received a positive test result on Tuesday. The Grand Forks Republican said he has only experienced cold-like symptoms and exhaustion so far, noting that he is due to receive an injection of convalescent plasma later on Thursday. Plasma therapy uses blood from someone who has recovered from COVID-19 to help others beat the virus.

Like nearly all of North Dakota's 141 legislators, Holmberg attended a three-day organizational session last week where lawmakers from all corners of the state congregated at the Capitol. Holmberg said he almost certainly caught the virus from "our petri dish called the Legislature" since he hadn't been anywhere else in the last two weeks.

Holmberg said he doesn't know of any other lawmakers who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the wake of the session but that he hopes whoever gave him the virus "cool(s) their jets."

The longtime legislator and Senate Appropriations chairman said he wore a paper surgical mask throughout his time at the Capitol, though he noted he shared many close interactions with colleagues during lunches and meetings.


Holmberg was supposed to serve as one of North Dakota's three presidential electors at a meeting next week in Bismarck, but he has been replaced due his diagnosis with the virus.

Three unidentified legislative staffers have also tested positive for the virus after the organizational session, Legislative Council Director John Bjornson said. He noted it's impossible to say whether the employees caught the virus during the session, but he said it was likely at least two of them contracted it through last week's events.

Bjornson would not identify the employees, but he said two of them were extensively involved in the session. He said the staffers are "pretty sick," but recovering at home.

When the Legislature convenes for its four-month regular session at the beginning of January, Holmberg said, "we're going to have to be more cautious" to prevent the spread of the virus, though he did not expand on what that could mean. He added that he hopes his diagnosis helps North Dakotans see that even their lawmakers can catch COVID-19.

Both the North Dakota House and Senate passed a mask requirement on lawmakers for the upcoming session despite some opposition from far-right Republicans. Legislators must have their temperature taken before entering the Capitol, and House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, said leaders are working with staff to make rapid COVID-19 tests available to lawmakers who want them.

Pollert and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said they haven't heard of any other lawmakers testing positive for the virus since the organizational session. Wardner said he thinks the new technology allowing lawmakers to attend committee meetings and floor sessions remotely will limit the spread of COVID-19 during the regular session.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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