Capitol riot may have put lawmakers at risk of coronavirus infection

Attending physician of the Congress warned Members of the House on Sunday may have been exposed to the coronavirus last week, after evacuating the House chamber when pro-Trump insurgents stormed the U.S. Capitol.

In an email, attending physician Brian Monahan wrote that after evacuating to “a large committee hearing space,” the members “may have been exposed to another occupant infected with coronavirus.”

“Please continue with your usual daily coronavirus risk reduction measures,” Monahan continued in the email, and “get an RT-PCR coronavirus test next week as a precautionary measure.”

Monahan’s warning is particularly striking in the context of a video obtained last week by Punchbowl News – a new media started in early 2021 with a handful of Politico alumni – which show evacuee House members unmasked and close to each other.

In the video, a lawmaker – Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester, a Democrat from Delaware – can be seen offering masks to other members, but many decline the offer.

“While I was disappointed by my colleagues who refused to wear a mask, I was encouraged by those who did”, Rochester said in a Friday tweet after the video went public. “My goal, in the midst of what I feared would be a super spreading event, was to at least make the room a little bit safer. “

It’s unclear whether the piece in the video is the same one that Monahan’s email warns of as the location of potential coronavirus exposure, but the footage, combined with the email, raises the alarming possibility of a Covid-19 outbreak on Capitol Hill.

As of Wednesday, at least one House member – Republican Rep. Jake LaTurner of Kansas – has announcement that he tested positive for Covid-19, although it is not yet clear whether LaTurner is the person with a coronavirus infection referenced in Monahan’s email.

LaTurner, member of Congress for a first term, confirmed in a tweet he tested positive on Wednesday night – the same day the Capitol was attacked.

“Congressman LaTurner follows the advice of the House doctor and the CDC guidelines,” a tweet from his official account says, “and, therefore, does not intend to return to the House for the votes until he is authorized to do so.”

There are also obvious coronavirus concerns over the crowd of largely maskless pro-Trump insurgents who invaded Capitol Hill on Wednesday. Many of these insurgents were in close contact with members of the Capitol Police as lawmakers evacuated.

“You cannot keep your distance if you are trying to leave a very intense and dangerous situation,” said Seema Lakdawala, expert in respiratory virus transmission. told the New York Times last week. “You are weighing the risk to your life versus the risk of contracting a virus at that time. “

Another area of ​​concern is that if Wednesday’s events result in additional cases of Covid-19 – or even turn into a superpropagatory event, although there is currently no evidence that has occurred – Congress is a particularly vulnerable population.

In particular, age is an important risk factor for severe Covid-19 cases. According to the Mayo Clinic, about 80 percent of U.S. deaths from the virus have been in people 65 and older – and the middle age House Democratic leaders at the 116th Congress (the 117th Congress started last Sunday) was 71 years old. The average age of the entire Democratic caucus in the previous Congress was 58 and 57 for the Republican conference.

One fact that could help limit any potential spread, however, is that many members of Congress – including the most senior members of each party in the House and Senate – have already received the first of two vaccines against Covid-19, hopefully reducing the risk of an epidemic. Like Kelsey Piper from Vox explained, “Receiving only one dose always reduces a person’s chances of contracting Covid-19 by 80 to 90%, at least initially. “

Congress spared the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic

Despite the risk factors on Capitol Hill, Congress has so far been spared the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. Since mid-December, 49 members in both chambers had tested positive for Covid-19, although that number has since increased and there have been no deaths among serving members.

However, elected representative Luke Letlow, 41, coronavirus death at the end of December, just days before he was sworn in as a member of the 117th Congress.

Even older members of Congress, like 87-year-old Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, who tested positive in November, had the experience in good health, although Alaska Rep. Don Young, also 87, said on twitter after surviving the virus that “quite frankly I hadn’t felt so sick in a very long time.”

This is in stark contrast to the predicament facing the country as a whole: Overshadowed by Wednesday’s insurgency on Capitol Hill, the United States reported on Thursday. highest number of deaths in one day from the pandemic with 4,112 deaths.

The United States also recorded 300,000 new cases in a single day on Friday for the first time in history, reporting 300,594 cases. On average, the country has reported 253,958 new cases per day over the past seven days, according to the New York Times.

The wider deployment of the vaccine in the United States is also well late, with only 5.9 million people vaccinated Thursday, far from 20 million the Trump administration Said would be vaccinated by the end of December.

The tide may turn in the near future: Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, said Last week that although the initial vaccine rollout stumbled, “I think we’ll gain momentum as we get past the holiday season in the first two weeks of January.”

And President-elect Joe Biden, who will be invested in 10 days, has pledged to large-scale vaccination effort to get “at least 100 million Covid vaccines in the arms of the American people” during his first 100 days in office.

To do this, Biden said he would do a bit controversial change in distribution strategy in the United States, releasing all available doses at once. The two vaccines currently cleared for widespread use in the United States require two doses, and the Trump administration had chosen to withhold doses to ensure those who receive their first dose are guaranteed to have a second available when they are. should receive it.

But even if the US vaccination effort improves in the coming weeks, right now the pandemic is tear the United States apart almost without control. Wednesday’s events may have made Congress more vulnerable than ever to the virus.

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