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Maryland General Assembly staff member tests positive for coronavirus

Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones’ office alerted members of the General Assembly on Sunday afternoon that a committee staff member has tested positive for the new coronavirus.

In an email, Jones’ chief of staff, Alexandra M. Hughes, wrote that the speaker’s office received notice Sunday that a House committee staffer tested positive for the virus and is recovering. That staff member has not been at work since Monday, the letter said.

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Del. Kumar Barve, a Montgomery County Democrat, confirmed in an interview that the infected person is a member of the Environment and Transportation Committee staff, although he did not identify the person by name. Barve is chairman of that committee.

Barve said the staff member primarily interacted with legislators, not the public, during the course of his or her work.

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In the five days leading up to the General Assembly’s adjournment last Wednesday, the State House and House and Senate office buildings were closed to the public.

“I have spoken to all other members of my committee and my other staff, and everyone feels great,” Barve said, adding that the staff member who tested positive is also “feeling all better.”

Hughes did not provide much detail in her letter to members of the General Assembly, a copy of which was obtained by The Baltimore Sun. Hughes did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Hughes said in the letter that members of the “relevant committee have been informed" and state and local health officials are “reviewing any potential contacts and making appropriate notifications. If you are not contacted, please do not be alarmed."

“Our advice from the Department of Health is that there is a very low risk to a broader group based on the current facts that we know,” Hughes wrote in the email. “We are notifying you out of an abundance of caution.

“If you have concerns for your health, you should consult your physician and encourage your staff to do the same.”

In Maryland, at least 244 cases have been confirmed, including 54 cases that were reported Sunday. Three people have died.

Worldwide, more than 300,000 cases have been reported, including more than 14,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

The General Assembly adjourned Wednesday after cutting the annual session short for the first time since the Civil War. Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson agreed to end the typically 90-day session about three weeks early amid the global pandemic.

Barve said in the waning days of the session, the General Assembly leadership evaluated the information at hand to make the best decisions possible.

“This is a situation where you take it one hour at a time,” Barve said. “You listen to experts and you make your best judgment call based on that. The number one concern was the health of the members, the staff and the public.”

No members of the General Assembly have reported testing positive for the virus.

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In the U.S. Congress, several members have confirmed cases, including Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican. Paul said Sunday that he feels healthy but is in quarantine after a positive test result.

Jason Farley, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and an infectious disease-trained nurse epidemiologist, said that while he did not have specific information about the House Committee staff member, people who have possibly interacted with someone who has the virus should take specific steps.

“Step One don’t panic. Step Two monitor your symptoms,” Farley said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Pamela Wood and Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

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