COVID-19 testing will continue at Alaska Capitol after contract extended through June

Two people sit on a deskon leather chairs
Rep. Sara Hannon, D-Juneau, left, and Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, discuss extending the Legislature’s contract with Beacon Occupational Health and Safety Services during the Legislative Council meeting on Wednesday in the Capitol. Hannan is the council chair and Reinbold is the vice chair. (Gavel Alaska)

The contract for Beacon Occupational Health and Safety Services to test and screen everyone who enters the Capitol was extended by the Legislative Council on Wednesday.

The extension through June 30 also adds $1.5 million to pay for the contract, which was originally budgeted for up to $1 million. But the federal CARES Act could provide up to $4 million to pay for Capitol safety. 

Kodiak Republican Sen. Gary Stevens praised the work done through the contract. 

“We’ve been very successful in controlling COVID in this building, through all of the things that we’ve been doing with Beacon,” said Stevens, who chaired the council last year when it approved the contract. 

Some Republican members repeatedly attempted to open a discussion of whether the council should change the COVID-19 safety policies. 

The policies say everyone in the Capitol is supposed to wear masks in public spaces, undergo a rapid COVID-19 test every four or five days, and be temperature screened upon entering the building every day. 

Wasilla Republican Sen. Mike Shower asked for the opportunity to weigh in on those policies before extending the contract. 

“It’s kind of the cart before the horse to me,” he said. “I’m being asked to approve a budget extension over policies that I haven’t had a chance to put input into yet. I haven’t had a chance to discuss them. I haven’t had a chance to ask questions.”

A discussion on the policies is set to happen at the council’s next meeting, which hasn’t been scheduled. 

The council also retroactively approved allowing the contractor to administer COVID-19 vaccinations since January to lawmakers and staff. 

Beacon has provided at least one shot to 240 people who work in the Capitol. Others have been vaccinated by different providers. 

The contract extension passed, 11 to 3. The no votes were Republican Sens. Lora Reinbold of Eagle River and Shower and Rep. Cathy Tilton of Wasilla. The approval of vaccinations by Beacon passed 13 to 1. Reinbold was the only no. 

Reinbold said she’s concerned about whether the council would be liable for adverse reactions to the vaccines. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they’re safe and effective, and there is no evidence vaccines have contributed to any deaths. More than 400 million COVID-19 shots have been given around the world, including more than 113 million in the U.S.