Senate and House leadership announced shortly before the session began in January 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 were mandated in both chambers and in all committee rooms, which were spaced out to try to keep legislators and attendees at least 6 feet apart.
“We were at a 1% positive rate, which is really, really good,” Dugan said. “I thought overall the concerns that (the Capitol was) going to be a hot spot — that never happened. I was glad that we were able to act responsibly and get our work done.”
The second day of the session, House Speaker David Ralston chastised his chamber, saying 74 of the 180 members skipped the first day of testing.
Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, had a state trooper remove state Rep. David Clark, R-Buford, from the chamber in late January after he refused to participate in the mandated testing. Clark ended up taking a test two days later.
Ralston’s spokesman, Kaleb McMichen, refused to give any information about COVID-19 test results during the legislative session. 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.
After the public confrontation with Clark, Ralston’s office contacted House members who missed their COVID-19 tests individually, telling them they couldn’t be at the Capitol until they took a test, House Democratic Leader James Beverly said.
Beverly, a Macon Democrat, said he asked Ralston and his office for the total number of people who tested positive for COVID-19 each week.
“I told his office I needed to know so that I could either allay the fears (of an outbreak) or say we need to shut this down again if things got bad,” he said.
It took him a few weeks to start getting reports on positive COVID-19 tests, so Beverly said he was only aware of two House members who tested positive during the session.
Five state senators reported testing positive for COVID-19 in March 2020 shortly after the Legislature suspended its session in an attempt to limit the spread of the disease.
In the Senate, President Pro Tem Butch Miller said while he was glad the protocols put in place seem to have kept lawmakers safe this session, he hopes they don’t need to be revisited when legislators return later this year for a special session to draw new boundaries for state and congressional districts.
“I think we will see the numbers (of those infected) will have flattened out significantly, more people will have been vaccinated and walking around with antibodies,” the Gainesville Republican said. “I envision we’ll be back to normal.”