Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson on Tuesday announced that several COVID-19 rapid tests had come back positive at the State House. Image via YouTube.

Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) announced that “several” COVID-19 rapid tests returned positive results at the Maryland State House on Tuesday.

Ferguson said the Senate is awaiting the results of the more-accurate PCR tests before making any changes to the chamber’s operations.

At the beginning of the state senate’s floor session Tuesday, nine of Maryland’s 47 state senators were absent.

Ferguson did not disclose the number or identities of the individuals who tested positive, nor did he disclose whether any of the senators who were absent Tuesday are among those who tested positive.

A spokesperson for the senate president’s office said they are “not providing specific information at this time out of respect of the person(s) who tested positive.”

Contact tracing has already occurred to notify anyone who was potentially exposed to the individuals who tested positive, Ferguson said, referencing that only 38 state senators were present at the beginning of Tuesday’s session.

Ferguson reminded state senators that “this is what we planned for.” The General Assembly is close to the mid-point of its annual 90-day session, which begins in early January.

“From the very outset, this was about risk mitigation,” he said. “All of the plans and operations that we put together were built around the possibility of the challenges of trying to legislate in the midst of a pandemic.”

Ferguson added that the State Senate will “err on the side of health and caution” and continue its operations with the least risk possible.

State Sen. Jason Gallion (R-Cecil and Harford counties) said he received a positive COVID-19 result from a rapid test a couple weeks ago, but his PCR test revealed that initial result was a false positive and that he actually tested negative for the virus.

Gallion urged Ferguson to “look at scrapping the rapid tests altogether” if Tuesday’s rapid tests turn out to be false positives, and instead only use PCR tests.

“This is coming from somebody who’s experienced this and knows what it’s like when you’ve had to go through that process and had that uncertainty of whether or not you have COVID, who you’ve been around,” Gallion said.

Although Ferguson said he is “very cognizant of the challenges and the emotional toll” that a false positive test result can cause, he said rapid tests have been a “leading indicator” in detecting potential positive cases at the State House.

The State Senate has been conducting rapid testing on Tuesdays and Fridays as part of its surveillance program, Ferguson said.

Ferguson said positive results from a PCR test have about a 98% reliability, compared to 80% reliability from rapid tests. But he said the Maryland Department of Health has advised that a positive rapid test should be treated as a positive test until otherwise determined by a negative result from a PCR test.

The State Senate is currently in Stage 3 of its 2021 Session Operations Plan, which is characterized by “no activity, isolated, or low level disease activity with limited exposure.”

The stage allows for debate and voting to be conducted on the Senate floor, while also giving members the choice to participate in floor proceedings from the committee room for voting.

Committee members participate in hearings virtually from their Senate offices and vote in-person in the committee room

Office meetings are limited to a maximum of two visitors, who must be escorted into and out of the Senate Office Buildings. Regular public access is restricted to legislators, staff and members of the press.

The Senate would move to Stage 2 if conditions progress to “low level disease activity with documented exposures requiring quarantine.”

If the Senate were to move to Stage 2, Senate operations would be limited, with members debating and voting virtually from committee rooms and unavailable members being marked as “excused.”

Senators would continue to participate in committee hearings from their Senate offices and vote in-person in the committee room. There would be no-in person office meetings.

Stage 1, the most restrictive stage, would be brought on by “increase[d] activity or multiple instances of disease activity and potential transmission; pandemic conditions.”

Under that stage, debate and voting would be paused for the full Senate; committee hearings would be held virtually; committees would have limited voting as necessary; and other operations would be “extremely limited.”

The spokesperson from the senate president’s office reiterated that the legislature is awaiting the results of the PCR tests before they decide any next steps to take.

Avatar photo

Marcus Dieterle

Marcus Dieterle is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. He returned to Baltimore in 2020 after working as the deputy editor of the Cecil Whig newspaper in Elkton, Md. He can be reached at