State House COVID Tests That Forced Quarantines Were False-Positives, Subsequent Testing Shows

The Maryland Senate dodged a bullet when 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. Sen. Sarah K. Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel) disclosed that she had been one of the people whose rapid test came up with a false positive. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

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 six senators absent from Tuesday’s floor session, at least some in part due to chamber rules requiring quarantining under certain circumstances.

On Wednesday, two senators were absent from the floor session “wholly unrelated to any testing issues,” Ferguson said. “They are separate issues entirely.”

Ferguson said there is a 14% rate of false positives on the rapid tests used at the State House complex.

He noted that the lawmakers are nearly halfway through the legislative session and Tuesday’s results were the first “positive” tests on campus.

If there is a positive result, precautions are required while followup polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests ― which have greater accuracy but take longer ― are processed.

“We are going to continue to default towards protecting health and safety,” Ferguson said. “This work that we do in this body is unbelievably important, but it is not worth lives. And so we are going to default on making sure that any risks that can be mitigated, we will mitigate.”

Under Senate rules, senators are tested at least twice every week, and take a number of other precautions, including universal masking, physical distancing, conducting some work virtually and sitting in plexiglass pods for floor sessions.

Ferguson thanked senators for taking COVID precautions seriously, and noted that his office will not be releasing additional information.

“There were a lot of efforts to discuss who, what, where, when. To be very clear, when it comes to these issues, we will not be identifying members of the staff, members, or anyone else, a specific result one way or another,” Ferguson said.

Sen. Sarah K. Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel), who was absent from the floor session Tuesday, tweeted Wednesday that she was the recipient of one of the false-positive results.

She also briefly spoke on the Senate floor, in part to remind her colleagues that it is “Maryland Independent Higher Education Day” in Annapolis.

“It’s good to be back,” Elfreth said. “Thank you, Mr. President for those kind words and thank you for checking in on us all day throughout the day and many of my colleagues for doing that as well.”

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.

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Danielle E. Gaines
Danielle Gaines most recently worked for Bethesda Beat covering Montgomery County. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at the Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.