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From history to home: New House Speaker Welch to quarantine after potential coronavirus exposure

Welch’s chief of staff notified House members just as they were heading home from the weeklong legislative session that someone who was at the Bank of Springfield Center this week tested positive for COVID-19.

State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, in January, shortly before Welch was elected speaker.
State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, joins lawmakers at their desks as they are sworn in at the Bank of Springfield Center on Wednesday, shortly before Welch was elected speaker.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP

SPRINGFIELD — Just one day after he made history with his election to one of Illinois’ top legislative posts, state House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch was preparing Thursday to quarantine after potential exposure to the coronavirus.

Welch’s chief of staff notified House members just as they were heading home from the weeklong legislative session that someone who was at the Bank of Springfield Center this week tested positive for COVID-19.

“All members and staff who were at the BoS Center today, or around someone who was, should self-quarantine,” Jessica Basham said in a brief written statement.

Lawmakers and staff talk in the Illinois House during the lame-duck session at the Bank of Springfield Center on Jan. 13.
Lawmakers and staff talk in the Illinois House during the lame-duck session at the Bank of Springfield Center on Wednesday.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP

Welch himself tested positive for the virus in November. Basham could not be reached for comment to provide any further details about the Hillside Democrat, the person who tested positive this week or whom they may have come into contact with.

But Steve Brown, a spokesman for the speaker’s office, said Welch was tested on Thursday, the results were negative, and he would self-quarantine.

Brown did not say how long Welch would stay in isolation. But public health officials say anyone who is exposed to the virus should quarantine for ten to 14 days if they have not been tested. That period can be shorter if they receive a negative test result during the quarantine, but how much shorter depends on when they are tested in relation to the potential exposure.

Welch was sworn in as speaker at the convention center on Wednesday, and he and his family appeared at a brief session on Thursday, when the House adjourned until February.

House Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, gets a hug from Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White after taking the Oath of Office at the Bank of Springfield Center on Wednesday.
House Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, gets a hug from Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White after taking the Oath of Office at the Bank of Springfield Center on Wednesday.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP

Welch is the first African American elected Illinois House speaker. He succeeds Southwest Side Democrat Mike Madigan, who served as speaker for nearly 40 years, longer than any other statehouse speaker in U.S. history.

The House held its five-day lame duck session and two days of the newly elected General Assembly’s session at the Bank of Springfield to allow for social distancing. The state Senate met at the Capitol.

Welch had tested positive for COVID-19 at the end of November. Those who recover from COVID-19 do not need to test or self-quarantine within three months of recovery if they show no symptoms, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines.