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Congressional chief medical officer urges lawmakers and staff to take greater precautionary measures to protect themselves from the coronavirus as the Capitol grapples with an explosive surge in COVID-19 cases.
Capitol’s attending physician Brian Monahan said Monday that the Capitol COVID-19 test center’s seven-day “positivity rate” had risen from less than 1 percent to more than 13 percent since late November.
In a letter to congressional bureaus, Monahan advised members to switch to remote working and found hundreds of people were infected. For those who choose to stay on the hill, he suggested swapping out fabric face covers for more sturdy N95 or KN95 masks.
“Convention bureaus, committees, and agencies should immediately review their operations to maximize their teleworking stance in order to reduce personal meetings and office activities as much as possible,” wrote Monahan.
The spike in positive cases at the Capitol reflects what is happening across Washington DC – the city has the highest infection and hospitalization rates in the pandemic – and across the country as the highly contagious variant of Omicron drives cases to all-time highs.
Monahan noted that most of the cases on the hill are due to the omicron and delta variants. On December 15, he wrote, a limited sample of cases showed that 61% of the cases were Omicron-related and 38% were Delta-related. The most recent cases also appear to be breakthrough infections in vaccinated individuals. He said no one had reported serious complications, hospitalizations, or deaths to date.
The attending physician role in Congress was created more than 90 years ago, at a time when an alarming number of lawmakers were dying each year. Causes of death ranged from overwork to an outbreak of flu.
“In 1928 alone, incumbent members of the Senate and House of Representatives died at a staggering rate of nearly 20 a year,” the Senate website said.
Despite the skyrocketing number of cases in the Capitol, Monahan says it is likely not where lawmakers and employees become infected. “Although many infections can be detected by workplace tests, the most common risk of infection is in the person’s activities outside of the workplace, such as walking around and outside of the workplace.
The Senate session is slated to take place this week, despite a heavy blizzard ending the session prematurely on Monday. In the meantime, some members of the House of Representatives plan to attend events marking the year-long anniversary of the January 6th uprising.