Georgia Senate GOP leader has COVID-19; half of House skip test

State Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, speaks from the floor in June. On Tuesday, he announced on Twitter that he had tested positive for the coronavirus and would "isolate at home until the virus passes." (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
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State Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, speaks from the floor in June. On Tuesday, he announced on Twitter that he had tested positive for the coronavirus and would "isolate at home until the virus passes." (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Two days into the 2021 session and the General Assembly is already having COVID-19 problems.

The session opened Monday. On Tuesday, Senate Republican Leader Mike Dugan said he tested positive for COVID-19 and was isolating at home.

Meanwhile, House Speaker David Ralston said nearly half of his chamber did not take the coronavirus test as required on Monday.

Ralston chastised a whopping 41% of his 180 members for skipping the test as the chamber convened Tuesday. All Georgia General Assembly members are required to be tested twice a week, and Monday was the first required test.

“Imagine how I felt when I came in today and I found that, yesterday, 74 members of this body did not get tested and were present in the building,” the Blue Ridge Republican told lawmakers. He said that includes members of both parties.

“We’re doing everything we possibly can to keep you safe,” Ralston said. “But it takes a little bit of initiative on your part in following the rules. Because if you don’t want to keep yourself safe, I want you to keep your neighbor safe and me safe and those around you safe.”

Senate staff said nearly all senators were tested Monday, but there were some who did not take a test. Exact figures were not immediately available.

Dugan’s results came early Tuesday after taking the required COVID-19 test. He said he was also tested Thursday, and those results were negative.

“My symptoms are minor and I plan to follow the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and isolate at home until the virus passes,” he said in a statement on Twitter.

He said he was tested Monday before experiencing any symptoms.

Dugan is one of two state senators who received positive results after taking COVID-19 tests on Monday, officials said. The senators weren’t identified, but Dugan made his test results public.

Ralston’s spokesman, Kaleb McMichen, refused to give any information about positive results from members of the chamber who took the test Monday. McMichen said he would not comment on the health of House members.

The General Assembly exempted itself and its offices from the Open Records Act, which cities, counties and most state agencies are legally bound to follow.

Rep. Roger Bruce, D-Atlanta, wore a mask and a face shield Tuesday. He said he did not get tested Monday, but he said he was tested last week and will get tested again Thursday.

Bruce said he is concerned not only about himself and his colleagues, but for employees and others gathered for the legislative session. And he worries lawmakers will get sick and take COVID back to their districts.

During Tuesday’s House session, Bruce asked why more legislative business can’t be done online. The answer: Last summer, the House approved a resolution that would have allowed just that during the pandemic. But it failed to pass the Senate.

Five state senators reported testing positive for COVID-19 in March shortly after the 2020 Legislature suspended its session in an attempt to limit the spread of the disease.

Senate and House leadership announced last month that lawmakers and staff would undergo COVID-19 testing at the Capitol on Mondays and Thursdays during the legislative session, which typically lasts through March. Masks are mandated in both chambers and in all committee rooms.

At least four legislators did not attend the first day of the legislative session on Monday after either previously testing positive for COVID-19 or being in contact with someone who had the virus.

On Monday, Ralston said three or four House members had tested positive for the disease. After Tuesday’s House session, he said he did not have updated figures.

But Ralston said he expects more representatives will be tested Thursday.

“We have a protocol in place. I expect it to be complied with,” he said. “I was very disappointed with those numbers. I’m hoping after my comments today we’ll see substantial improvement in the next round of testing.”