One senator catches COVID-19, another under quarantine in special session

A group of legislators file into the War Memorial Building for Gov. Bill Lee's address at the start of a special session. (Photo: John Partipilo)
A group of legislators file into the War Memorial Building for Gov. Bill Lee's address at the start of a special session. (Photo: John Partipilo)

State Sen. Ed Jackson confirmed Thursday he tested positive for COVID-19 and is quarantining at his Nashville home while another senator is isolating during a special session of the Legislature designed to reform education amid the pandemic.

Jackson, a Republican from Jackson, said he underwent testing this week as soon as he started feeling symptoms and had an infusion of antibodies to ward off the coronavirus.

Sen. Ed Jackson, R-Jackson (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)
Sen. Ed Jackson, R-Jackson (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)

“I’ve got it, but I have an extremely mild case,” Jackson said in a phone interview Thursday. He noted he feels like he has a head cold but no fever, body aches or pains.

Jackson also confirmed that Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, a Knoxville Republican, is under quarantine. They had lunch together Tuesday at a Nashville restaurant.

“The other people I’ve been close to have already had it and have the antibodies … a couple of others. That’s what it is,” Jackson said.

The Tennessee Journal reported other lawmakers and staff members might have been exposed but that one lawmaker who came into contact is remaining in the Senate because he had already had a case of COVID-19.

A spokesman for Lt. Gov. Randy McNally declined to confirm the cases Thursday or whether new steps would be taken to protect members.

Connie Ridley, director of Legislative Administration, would neither confirm nor deny the illnesses, citing federal health privacy laws.

“When notified of a positive test, Legislative Administration carries out careful and confidential contact tracing and notification. However, any information on COVID-positive individuals or other health information is not subject to public disclosure and cannot be released,” Ridley said in a statement.

Ridley said the department has detailed contact tracing procedures to make sure anyone who might have come into contact with a COVID-positive person is notified immediately and given instructions on how to quarantine.

The Senate has taken several steps to avoid illness, including social distancing, keeping the public out of the Senate chamber and limiting visitors in committee rooms. 

But once a senator leaves the Capitol or Cordell Hull Building, nothing guarantees they won’t come into contact with the virus.

The House has had at least nine members test positive for the virus. Rep. Sabi Kumar, a physician, implored House members to wear masks while in the chamber and in the Cordell Hull Building, warning those who contracted the illness that they might feel better but could still be carrying the virus.