Lawmakers Sheltering During Capitol Riot May Have Been Exposed To Coronavirus

Topline

Lawmakers who were sheltering together during Wednesday’s violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol may have been exposed to Covid-19, according to a memo Sunday from the the attending physician of Congress obtained by multiple news outlets, as public health experts have warned that the mass unrest in Washington, D.C., last week may worsen the already dire coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

Key Facts

The letter to members of Congress and staff from Dr. Brian Monahan said that while many members of the House were in “protective isolation” in a committee hearing room while a pro-Trump mob wandered freely through the Capitol Building, they “may have been exposed to another occupant with coronavirus infection.”

Dr. Monahan advised lawmakers and staff to continue their usual efforts to reduce the risk of transmission, like social distancing and mask wearing, and to get tested this coming week.

 Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), calling in to CBS News after sheltering in place in an undisclosed location with between 300 and 400 people, estimated that about half the people in the room, including some from the Republican delegation, refused to wear masks despite being offered them.  

Newly elected Rep. Jake LaTurner (R-Ken.) tested positive for the coronavirus late on Wednesday, after the mob had been cleared from the Capitol and while the certification of the Electoral College’s vote was still ongoing. 

Key Background

The newly disclosed risk to lawmakers comes as public health experts are already expressing concerns that Wednesday’s rally mob was a superspreader event. “If you wanted to organize an event to maximize the spread of covid it would be difficult to find one better than the one we witnessed [Wednesday],” Jonathan Fielding, a professor at UCLA’s School of Public Health and Medicine, told the Washington Post. Many in the crowd of thousands were without masks, and many had traveled from out of state and stayed in hotels, ABC News reported. The pace of coronavirus transmission in the United States is escalating at an alarming rate. A new, more contagious strain of the virus has already been detected in eight states. 

Crucial Quote 

Wednesday’s events had “all the elements of what we warn people about,” UCLA epidemiologist Anne Rimoin told the New York Times. “People yelling and screaming, chanting, exerting themselves — all of those things provide opportunity for the virus to spread, and this virus takes those opportunities.”

Tangent 

Members of Congress and the staff that support them have grappled with the challenges of keeping the government functioning and containing the spread of the coronavirus for months. Some lawmakers voted from behind a plexiglass enclosure during last week’s vote for speaker of the House. The House has allowed members to vote by proxy for months, and a mask mandate in that chamber went into effect over the summer. 

Big Number

50. That’s how many members of Congress have tested positive for coronavirus or have been diagnosed with a presumed coronavirus infection, according to Govtrack. 

Further Reading

Storming of Capitol was textbook potential coronavirus superspreader, experts say (Washington Post)

Congresswoman describes holding location as “super-spreader event” (CBS News)

Kansas Rep. Jake LaTurner Tests Positive For Covid-19 Hours After House Vote (Forbes)

Rep. Granger Tests Positive For Coronavirus After Receiving First Vaccine Dose (Forbes)

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