ATLANTA — The entire Georgia legislature has been urged to self-quarantine after a state senator tested positive for coronavirus Wednesday.
Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, started showing symptoms including a fever and cough last Tuesday. He said he was not diagnosed with the virus after seeking medical attention and started feeling better, according to news releases.
On Monday, Beach appeared for nearly eight hours at the Georgia Capitol, where around 200 state lawmakers and a smattering of government staff members and journalists convened for a special session. Two days later, after being tested on Saturday, Beach said his results came back positive.
“I know many Georgians are praying hard as we weather this crisis together,” Beach said in a statement. “And frankly, I’d ask that they pray for me, as well as all the others in our state who are going through this right now – and those who will soon.”
So far, test results confirm 287 people have been infected with COVID-19 in Georgia including 10 deaths as of noon Thursday, according to the state Department of Public Health. The number of confirmed cases has risen steadily each day.
Additionally, COVID-19 cases in Southwest Georgia have swelled. Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany reported 43 patients have tested positive along with four deaths as of noon Thursday. Close to 500 more people in the area are still awaiting test results.
The General Assembly’s legislative session was in full swing until late last week, when lawmakers agreed to an indefinite suspension as concern over the virus’ spread ramped up dramatically. Lawmakers met again Monday for a one-day special session to approve emergency powers for Gov. Brian Kemp.
Top lawmakers in the state House and Senate sent word Wednesday their members should self-quarantine for the next two weeks. Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan noted the wisdom of suspending the session and asked everyone to follow the advice of doctors and health officials: stay home and avoid social interactions for the time being.
“Together, we can stop the spread of COVID-19 so that our medical professionals can focus on treating those most at risk,” said Dugan, R-Carrollton.
Kemp, in a radio interview Thursday morning, said he did not plan on being tested for coronavirus or self-quarantining after isolating himself from lawmakers at the Capitol since early last week. The governor urged people to wash their hands, limit social interactions and call a doctor first before showing up at a hospital for testing if they feel sick.
“This is a good example of why people need to do what we’re asking them to do,” Kemp said. “ If you are sick, do not go out. Just stay home until you can figure out what’s going on.”
Kemp’s staff said the governor was not in contact with Beach or any other lawmakers who may have been exposed to the virus.
For some lawmakers, the appearance of Beach at the Capitol Monday after he started experiencing common symptoms of the virus nearly a week prior was a source of anger and frustration. Rep. Scot Turner, R-Holly Springs, wrote on Facebook that he was “shaking with rage” to learn about Beach’s movements.
“I have an elderly hospice patient at home,” Turner said. “(Beach) irresponsibly stayed all day at the Capitol on Monday after being tested on Saturday and exposed all of us.”
Rep. Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta, suggested Beach’s actions marked a blatant disregard for advice lawmakers received ahead of Monday’s special session that they should stay home if they felt ill.
“I was worried we were exposing ourselves,” Nguyen said. “And we were. And we might have brought that exposure back to every part of our state.”
Others, however, encouraged patience for leaders facing quickly changing scenarios on how to best react to the virus. Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, heeded his colleagues not to pass judgment on Beach as all 236 state lawmakers hunker down to self-quarantine.
“I’m not going to Monday-morning quarterback him,” Strickland said. “This is tough stuff, the first time any of us have dealt with this, and I don’t think it’s fair to make judgments.”