AJC Interview: Brandon Beach talks about coronavirus diagnosis that upended Capitol

State Sen. Brandon Beach speaks during a meeting at the Georgia Capitol. (Photo by Phil Skinner)
State Sen. Brandon Beach speaks during a meeting at the Georgia Capitol. (Photo by Phil Skinner)

It started a few weeks ago with what state Sen. Brandon Beach figured was a bout with recurring sinus problems. It ended with a coronavirus diagnosis that triggered calls for the entire Georgia legislative branch to self-quarantine.

The Alpharetta Republican spoke publicly about his diagnosis for the first time Friday in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, saying he regretted his decision to attend a vote Monday as he was awaiting test results but that he was cleared by a physician “to go back to normal duties.”

“I’m not a bad person – I would never ever do this on purpose. I was surprised as anybody. I thought it was my regular sinus bronchitis stuff I get every year,” he said.

“I can tell you this: I’m convinced that there were other people walking around with this that haven’t been tested.”

His disclosure of the positive test Wednesday led to outrage from some colleagues, a rebuke from Gov. Brian Kemp and renewed scrutiny of decisions legislative leaders made that could have prolonged the exposure.

House Speaker David Ralston joined the chorus on Friday, telling the AJC in an interview that Beach was “reckless and irresponsible.”

“He jeopardized the health of the members of the General Assembly, the media and the staff,” Ralston said. “It was an incredibly, incredibly poor decision on his part.”

Beach was the first known Georgia lawmaker who contracted the disease. A second state senator, Kay Kirkpatrick of Marietta, said late Friday she also screened positive for the disease and has been in isolation since she suffered a fever on Saturday.

In the interview, Beach told the AJC that he sought medical help from two separate physicians last week as he suffered from chest pains and coughing, two symptoms of the disease that has sickened at least 420 Georgians and is linked to 13 deaths in the state.

March 16, 2020 - Atlanta - Signs in the senate chamber say "Don't shake hands".  Georgia lawmakers gathered in an extraordinary special session on Monday and voted to grant Gov. Brian Kemp sweeping new powers to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. It's the first time in state history a governor has declared a public health emergency, and Kemp cast it as essential to deploy all available resources to contain a disease that's sickened dozens of Georgians and has killed one.    Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
March 16, 2020 - Atlanta - Signs in the senate chamber say "Don't shake hands". Georgia lawmakers gathered in an extraordinary special session on Monday and voted to grant Gov. Brian Kemp sweeping new powers to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. It's the first time in state history a governor has declared a public health emergency, and Kemp cast it as essential to deploy all available resources to contain a disease that's sickened dozens of Georgians and has killed one. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Beach said he started exhibiting symptoms March 10 and went to consult with the “doctor of the day” – a rotating physician at the Capitol – and later received tests for the flu and strep throat that came back negative.

He was given a steroid shot and Z pack, used to treat anti-bacterial infections, and the senator said his health improved for a few days. But on Saturday he awoke with more coughing and chest pains and rushed to seek medical attention.

He went to Northside Hospital, where he told a physician he had recently interacted with U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who had  self-isolated because he was potentially exposed to someone with the coronavirus at a conservative conference.

“They told me they would test me for precautionary reasons,” Beach said of the test, which typically takes several days to process.

“I never got any indication not to show up Monday. I was cleared to go back to normal duties,” he said. “My chest X-ray came back good. I was tested twice for flu, and both times it was negative. They thought I had the same bacterial issues I have every year.”

Kemp and state health officials have repeatedly encouraged Georgians to stay home from work if possible, particularly if they're showing any symptoms of the disease. Kemp on Thursday said Beach was a "good example of why people need to do what we're asking them to do."

March 16, 2020 - Atlanta - Senators vote on the resolution.  Georgia lawmakers gathered in an extraordinary special session on Monday and voted to grant Gov. Brian Kemp sweeping new powers to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. It's the first time in state history a governor has declared a public health emergency, and Kemp cast it as essential to deploy all available resources to contain a disease that's sickened dozens of Georgians and has killed one.    Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
March 16, 2020 - Atlanta - Senators vote on the resolution. Georgia lawmakers gathered in an extraordinary special session on Monday and voted to grant Gov. Brian Kemp sweeping new powers to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. It's the first time in state history a governor has declared a public health emergency, and Kemp cast it as essential to deploy all available resources to contain a disease that's sickened dozens of Georgians and has killed one. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

At the session on Monday, what was expected to be a one-hour event stretched to nearly eight hours as lawmakers clashed over whether to put limits on emergency powers granted to Kemp to fight the pandemic.

Beach looked visibly ill to bystanders, though he told the AJC he felt a “pep in his step.”

“I would never have gone to the Capitol if I thought there was any chance I was positive. I was told twice by my doctor that it was a bacterial infection,” he said. “They were treating me for a bacterial infection. I have sinus problems every year.”

Beach said he is now “feeling pretty good” and in self-isolation at his home.

“I’m worried about getting well and that everyone else gets well and that we contain this thing and do what the governor says," he said. "In no way, shape or form would I ever intentionally expose anyone.”

And in a nod to those who are excoriating him for possibly exposing them to the disease, Beach said he had no ill will for whoever infected him.

“Somebody gave this to me. I don’t hold any hard feelings or grudges,” he said. “I don’t know who did it, but I’m not mad about it. I can’t be. I’m not blaming anyone.”

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