Ga. lawmakers urged to self-quarantine after senator’s positive coronavirus test

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
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

‘I’m shaking with rage’

All of Georgia’s state lawmakers were urged Wednesday to self-isolate themselves for weeks after a state senator who participated in a Monday vote disclosed he tested positive for the disease caused by coronavirus.

State Sen. Brandon Beach said he was screened for the disease Saturday when he sought medical attention for a cough and mild fever, but that the test results didn’t arrive until Wednesday.

In between, the Alpharetta Republican said he felt healthy enough to join dozens of legislators, staff members and reporters for a one-day special legislative session at the Capitol to grant Gov. Brian Kemp broad powers to respond to the pandemic. 

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The positive test triggered emails from Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston recommending that all 236 state lawmakers, as well as dozens of staffers from both chambers, quarantine themselves through March 30.

State Sen. Brandon Beach, the sponsor of legislation in the Senate that would allow casino gambling in Georgia, said Monday that the bill appears to be dead for the year. He said he will start traveling across the state in April, after the legislative session has concluded, to build support for the bill in 2018. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
State Sen. Brandon Beach, the sponsor of legislation in the Senate that would allow casino gambling in Georgia, said Monday that the bill appears to be dead for the year. He said he will start traveling across the state in April, after the legislative session has concluded, to build support for the bill in 2018. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

And Kemp, who said he would not self-isolate, said Thursday that Beach’s behavior is a “good example why people need to do what we’re asking them to do.”

“The biggest thing is social distance yourself,” he told 680 The Fan. “If you are sick, do not – do not – go out. Stay home until you can figure out what’s going on. Don’t go to the doctor. Don’t show up at the emergency room. Don’t show up at work.”

‘Rage’

In the email from Senate officials, an aide to Duncan said that Beach, who wasn’t initially identified, had exhibited symptoms dating to March 10. That sparked outrage from some legislators infuriated by Beach’s decision.

"I'm shaking with rage. We were told if we had symptoms to refrain from going to the Capitol on Monday. Senator Brandon Beach knew he was exhibiting symptoms since MARCH THE 10TH!" wrote state Rep. Scot Turner on Facebook

“I have an elderly hospice patient at home. He irresponsibly stayed all day at the Capitol on Monday and exposed all of us.”

In a statement, Beach said he felt better by Monday thanks to medication and “thought I was in the clear” - until his test results showed otherwise.

“I know many Georgians are praying hard as we weather this crisis together, and frankly, I’d ask that they pray for me,” Beach said, “as well as all the others in our state who are going through this right now – and those who soon will.”

On Thursday, Beach's wife posted on Facebook reiterating that the senator thought he was "on the mend."

“The last thing he would want would be for anyone to be infected,” Shuntel Beach said.

Beach is the first known state lawmaker to test positive for the virus that has sickened at least 197 in Georgia and is linked to three deaths. But another legislator, state Sen. Bruce Thompson, said he was hospitalized and awaiting test results.

Thompson, a Republican from White who was not in the Capitol on Monday, posted on Facebook that he had been in intensive care and was awaiting the results of a coronavirus test. Thompson said an initial test for the disease came back negative.

State Sen. Bruce Thompson posted this picture of himself on his Facebook site.
State Sen. Bruce Thompson posted this picture of himself on his Facebook site.

‘Take this seriously’

In a text message, Thompson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he was on the mend.

“Each day in (intensive care) has provided slight improvements, and tomorrow I’m moving to an isolation ward which is a step down from the ICU,” Thompson said.

“My vitals have stabilized for hours, and all that’s good, now they go to work trying to heal my lungs and get me to breathe without assistance!”

In a statement announcing his self-isolation, Duncan said Beach’s diagnosis was a reminder to “heed the warnings of Gov. Kemp and the Trump administration — we have to take this seriously.”

Other members of the Senate also announced they would quarantine themselves,  including state Sen. Jen Jordan, Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan and state Sen. Renee Unterman, a Republican candidate for the 7th Congressional District.

And every member of the General Assembly received a memo from the Department of Public Health advising them how to “closely monitor” their health for the next two weeks after possibly being exposed to the virus because of Beach.

 

The governor, meanwhile, said Thursday he didn’t plan to get screened for the illness because he “severely limited” his recent interactions. He said he entered the Capitol on Monday from a first-floor entrance and went straight to his office.

“I never interacted with any legislators,” he said. “I was asked to come speak to the caucus meetings, I told them that was a bad idea. We ended up doing that by phone calls on Sunday night and Monday morning.”

Lawmakers indefinitely suspended the legislative session last week because of the growing pandemic, though they were unexpectedly summoned back to the Capitol by Kemp after he declared a public health emergency.

A member of the state House also voluntarily went into quarantine earlier this week and did not attend Monday’s legislative session. House officials said Wednesday they had no update on the lawmaker’s status.

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