Nine Georgia senators tested positive for COVID-19 during session; House refuses to share stats

Georgia lawmakers and staff underwent testing for the coronavirus every Monday and Thursday during the state's 2021 legislative session that ended last week. (Hyosub Shin /



Georgia lawmakers and staff underwent testing for the coronavirus every Monday and Thursday during the state's 2021 legislative session that ended last week. (Hyosub Shin /

Nine Georgia senators tested positive for COVID-19 during this year’s legislative session held with numerous safety protocols in place.

Georgia Senate leaders credited the protocols established before the session started in January with keeping the infection rate of the virus low during their 40 legislative days. The session adjourned last week.

Of the 3,907 tests administered to senators, staff and interns on 27 days across 13 weeks, there were about two dozen positive COVID-19 tests — including the nine senators.

House staff refused to share any information surrounding the twice-weekly tests administered at the Capitol each week of the session. On the last day of session last week, House Majority Leader Jon Burns, R-Newington, said out of about 11,000 tests given to members and staff, 75 were positive. House staff refused to confirm the number or say how many members tested positive.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, a Carrollton Republican who was one of two senators to test positive for COVID-19 on the first day of the session, said he was pleased with the way his chamber’s 56 members handled the guidelines put in place.

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.”