Va. senator tests positive for COVID-19 during special session on COVID-19

Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, speaks during a Senate committee meeting Wednesday during a special legislative session convened to address the economic fallout of COVID-19. (Screenshot/ Virginia Senate)

Virginia Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, tested positive for COVID-19 less than a week after the General Assembly convened for a special session to address the economic fallout of the pandemic.

In a statement, Reeves said he took a test Monday “out of an abundance of caution” after experiencing mild cold symptoms. The result was positive. “As of yesterday I’m in self-quarantine,” Reeves said.

While the House of Delegates has been meeting remotely, the Senate opted to hold in-person floor sessions and committee meetings in a ballroom at the Science Museum of Virginia, where masks are required and senators have worked on widely distanced folding tables.

The precautions also include plexiglass barriers placed around the desks of two lawmakers, Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, who has said preexisting conditions make him especially vulnerable to the virus, and Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, who says she has a doctors note saying she can’t wear a mask for medical reasons.

Senate Clerk Susan Clarke Schaar informed senators of their colleague’s positive test in email sent early Tuesday afternoon that advised them to “seek medical attention immediately” if they were experiencing a sore throat, coughing or sneezing. She said Reeves’ symptoms began last Wednesday night.

“If you have these symptoms or other Covid symptoms please do NOT come to Richmond!,” Schaar wrote.

Reeves is at least the third Virginia lawmaker to test positive for the virus and the first to test positive while the General Assembly was actively meeting.

A spokesman for the Senate GOP caucus, Jeff Ryer, said he didn’t expect the positive case to impact the caucus, which holds closed meetings together to discuss legislation, because of all the precautions that have been put in place.

“We’ve got two people in plexiglass boxes and hand sanitizer on every table,” Ryer said. “There is not a precaution they didn’t take.”

Asked if Virginia’s 40 senators, who have been meeting in person, should be tested and quarantine themselves, the Virginia Department of Health said it is “working with the relevant local health departments as well as reaching out to the individual and the Senate clerk to gather the information necessary to initiate the public health disease investigation.”

VDH said those local departments will identify and notify people who may have been in close contact with Reeves so “they can self-quarantine and pursue testing.”

“Legislators and other participants who are in their self-quarantine period should not attend the session in person,” a spokeswoman wrote in an email, referencing VDH’s protocols for people with a confirmed COVID-19 case and close contacts. “Maintaining social distancing and wearing cloth face covers are the best barriers we currently have to prevent infection, so it is critical to observe these precautions.”

Mercury reporters Kate Masters and Graham Moomaw contributed to this story.