The attending physician of Congress warned members of the House of Representatives on Sunday that they may have been exposed to the coronavirus last week after being evacuated from the House of Representatives chamber when pro-Trump insurgents stormed the U.S. Capitol.
In an email, the attending physician, Dr. Brian Monahan that members may have been exposed to another inmate with coronavirus infection after evacuation to a “large committee hearing room”.
NEW – The attending physician sent an email advising that people in the safe room may have been exposed to the coronavirus during the riots. pic.twitter.com/iqxYHG32ye
– Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) January 10, 2021
“Please continue with your usual daily measures to reduce the risk of coronavirus,” Monahan continues in the email, “and as a precaution, receive an RT-PCR coronavirus test next week.”
Monahan’s warning is particularly strong in the context of a video taped last week by Punchbowl News – a new news agency launched by a handful of Politico alums in early 2021 – that exposes evacuated members of the House and shows them in close proximity to one another.
The video shows a legislature – Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, a Delaware Democrat – offering masks to other members, but many decline the offer.
“While I was disappointed with my colleagues who refused to wear a mask, I was encouraged by those who did,” Rochester said in a Friday tweet after the video was released. “My goal was to make the room at least a little safer in the middle of the super-spreader event I feared.”
While I was disappointed with my colleagues who refused to wear a mask, I was encouraged by those who did. My goal in the middle of a super spreader event I feared was to make the room at least a little safer. https://t.co/HpEZdUzHbd
– Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (@RepLBR) January 8, 2021
It’s unclear if the room in the video is the same as Monahan’s email warns that there is potential coronavirus exposure, but the footage combined with the email increases the alarming possibility of a Covid-19 Eruption on Capitol Hill.
As of Wednesday, at least one member of the House of Representatives – Kansas Republican MP Jake LaTurner – announced that he had tested positive for Covid-19. However, it is again unclear whether LaTurner is the person with a coronavirus infection referred to in Monahan’s email.
LaTurner, a first-time member of Congress, confirmed in a tweet that he tested positive on Wednesday night – the same day the Capitol was attacked.
“Congressional LaTurner is following the GP’s advice and CDC guidelines,” said a tweet from his official report, “and therefore does not plan to return to the House to vote until cleared.”
Following the GP’s advice and CDC guidelines, Congressman LaTurner has no plans to return to the house to vote until asked to do so.
– Rep Jake LaTurner (@RepLaTurner) January 7, 2021
There are also obvious coronavirus concerns over the amount of largely maskless pro-Trump insurgents that flooded the Capitol on Wednesday. Many of these insurgents were in close contact with members of the Capitol Police while the legislature evacuated.
“You can’t keep your distance trying to leave a very intense and dangerous situation,” Seema Lakdawala, an expert on respiratory virus transmission, told the New York Times last week. “You are weighing the risk of your life against the risk of catching a virus right now.”
Also worrying is that Congress is a particularly vulnerable population if Wednesday’s events lead to additional Covid-19 cases – or even turn into a superspreader event, despite the lack of evidence as of now.
Age in particular is a significant risk factor for cases of severe Covid-19. According to the Mayo Clinic, about 80 percent of deaths in the US from the virus were 65 years and older – and the median age of the House Democratic leadership in the 116th Congress (the 117th Congress started just last Sunday) was 71 years. The median age of the total Democratic caucus in the previous Congress was 58 and for the Republican Conference it was 57.
One fact that could help limit any possible spread, however, is that many members of Congress – including senior members of every party in the House and Senate – have already received the first of two Covid-19 vaccinations, which hopefully will take this off Risk of an outbreak. As Vox’s Kelsey Piper explained, “taking a single dose reduces a person’s chances of getting Covid-19, at least 80 to 90 percent initially.”
Congress was spared the worst Covid-19 pandemic
Despite the risk factors on Capitol Hill, Congress has been spared the worst coronavirus pandemic yet. By mid-December, 49 members in both chambers had tested positive for Covid-19, although that number has risen since then and there have been no deaths among serving members.
The elected representative Luke Letlow, 41, died of the coronavirus in late December, just days before he was due to be sworn in as a member of the 117th Congress.
Even senior members of Congress like Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, 87, who tested positive in November, have had the experience of good health, despite Alaska MP Don Young, who is also 87, said on Twitter after surviving the virus had: “To be honest, I hadn’t felt so sick in a long time. “
To be honest, I hadn’t felt so sick for a long time and I’m grateful to everyone who held me in their thoughts and prayers. Unfortunately, much of what you have heard about my condition was based on speculation in the media that did not respect my privacy.
– Rep. Don Young (@repdonyoung) November 16, 2020
This is in sharp contrast to the plight the country is currently facing: The U.S. was overshadowed by the Capitol Hill riot on Thursday, reporting the highest single-day death toll from the pandemic, reporting 4,112 deaths.
On Friday, the U.S. recorded 300,000 new cases in a single day for the first time and reported 300,594 cases. According to the New York Times, the country has reported an average of 253,958 new cases per day over the past seven days.
The wider adoption of U.S. vaccines has also lagged far behind the pace: only 5.9 million people had been vaccinated as of Thursday, far fewer than the 20 million the Trump administration would have vaccinated by the end of December.
It is possible that the tide will turn in the near future: Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said last week that while the first vaccine rollout stumbled, “I believe we’ll gain momentum as we move beyond the holiday season into the first few weeks of January. “
And President-elect Joe Biden, who will be inaugurated in 10 days, has pledged large-scale vaccination to get “at least 100 million Covid vaccine shots into the arms of the American people” within his first 100 days in office.
To this end, Biden has announced that it will change its US sales strategy in a somewhat controversial manner and release all available cans at once. Both vaccines, currently in widespread use in the US, require two doses, and the Trump administration had decided to withhold the doses to ensure those who received their first dose were guaranteed a second one when they received it should receive.
But even if vaccination efforts improve in the US in the coming weeks, the pandemic is currently sweeping the US almost unchecked – and Wednesday’s events could have left Congress more vulnerable than ever to the virus.
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