Ferguson: COVID-Positive Rapid Tests Recorded at State House Complex This Morning

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), in his protected space, presides during the first day of the 2021 General Assembly session. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

UPDATE: Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said Wednesday morning that COVID-positive rapid tests recorded at the State House complex on Tuesday subsequently returned negative results on follow-up tests.

There were multiple positive COVID-19 tests at the State House complex on Tuesday, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) told his colleagues at the start of the chamber’s floor session Tuesday morning.

“This morning we had several rapid positive tests on campus,” Ferguson said, adding that those who tested positive had also taken PCR tests, which could offer more conclusive results later in the day.

Nine lawmakers were absent during the chamber’s quorum call Tuesday. Their absences do not necessarily mean they were among those who tested positive, and three senators appeared to arrive late. Senators are required to test negative before being allowed on the Senate floor for sessions.

Ferguson did not say whether the positive tests were among lawmakers or employees, and he added that some people were absent as a result of contact tracing efforts. The General Assembly has taken major steps to keep lawmakers safe through the COVID-altered session, which began on Jan. 13.

“Just a reminder, this is what we prepared for,” he said. “From the outset, this has all been about risk mitigation.”

Sen. Jason C. Gallion (R-Harford) told his colleagues that he tested positive on a rapid test a few weeks ago, only to learn through the subsequent test that he did not have the coronavirus.

“I’ve heard rumors of some issues with this rapid test,” he said. “Sometimes there are bad batches.”

Gallion asked Ferguson to consider doing away with the rapid test if the positive tests from Tuesday morning turned out to be faulty. Ferguson replied that the rapid tests are shown to have about 80% reliability.

“The chair is very cognizant of the challenges and the emotional toll that a false positive test can bring on,” he said.

The Senate then began its normal floor schedule.

As it turned out, five of the six missing lawmakers ― Sens. Jack Bailey (R-St. Mary’s), Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City), Robert G. Cassilly (R-Harford), Shelly K. Hettleman (D-Baltimore County) and Susan C. Lee (D-Montgomery) ― serve on the Judicial Proceedings Committee, which had several long in-person sessions last week to work on police reform legislation.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee during its virtual hearing Tuesday afternoon. Some of the members had been absent from the Senate floor earlier in the day. Screen shot.

Bill sponsors took notice when several of the senators who had been missing from the Senate floor reappeared during the committee’s virtual bill hearing Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s great to see Sen. Bailey and Sen. Cassilly and Sen. Lee and Sen. … Hettleman, of course, and I wish them the very best of health — I’m sure we all do,” said Sen. Christopher R. West (R-Baltimore County), a member of the committee.

“It’s good to see the few of you that are there,” said Sen. Ronald N. Young (D-Frederick), a Judicial Proceedings Committee alumnus, as he presented a bill. “I’m sorry things aren’t going well.”

During Young’s hearing, only eight committee members appeared on a rare, brief flash of the committee’s Zoom participant grid. Among the missing: Carter, Sen. Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County) and Senate Minority Whip Michael J. Hough (R-Frederick).

Hough, who was present in the Senate chamber earlier that day, reappeared to present a bill. According to the General Assembly’s website, neither Sydnor or Carter had hearings in other committees Tuesday afternoon.

‘Continuity of government’

State lawmakers, regardless of their age and physical condition, have been offered access to COVID-19 vaccines as part of the state’s “continuity of government” push. But it’s unclear how many have availed themselves of the service.

The House of Delegates convened on Tuesday morning an hour before the Senate did, with no mention of anyone in the legislative complex testing positive for COVID-19.

Alexandra M. Hughes, chief of staff to Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), said some House members have occasionally self-quarantined during the course of the legislative session “out of an abundance of caution,” but that no delegates have tested positive so far.

Additional details about the PCR tests mentioned by Ferguson were not available Tuesday evening.

The session is scheduled to run through April 12.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated with new information and to correct the positive tests recorded at the State House complex. Senate President Bill Ferguson said there were multiple positive tests, but he did not say that any senators tested positive. 

Hannah Gaskill and Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.

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Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.