With anxiety on the rise about the potential spread of coronavirus on Capitol Hill, especially among Congress' vulnerable and ageing members, late Wednesday night it was announced a senate staffer who works on the hill tested positive.
Washington state Democratic senator Maria Cantwell's office said a staffer in her D.C. office tested positive in the first known instance of a congressional staffer getting the virus, prompting Sen. Cantwell to order her office closed for at least the remainder of the week.
"The individual who tested positive for COVID-19 has had no known contact with the senator or other members of Congress," the statement said. "The senator is requesting that testing be done on any other staffers who have been in contact with the individual and show symptoms."
Currently at least seven other members of Congress have out of an abundance of precaution taken steps to isolate themselves after possible instances of exposure.
This includes five Republican lawmakers — Sen. Ted Cruz, Reps. Matt Gaetz, Doug Collins, Paul Gosar and Mark Meadows — who are self-quarantining after attending the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland where an infected individual was present. And two Democrats include California Rep. Julia Brownley and Virginia Rep. Don Beyer, who earlier this week said they may have recently interacted with acquaintances who tested positive.
The average Congressional age is around 60-years old, and law makers and their staffers often work in a close quarter environment, alarming given that D.C. — already under a newly declared state of emergency after local cases started exploding for the first time days ago — sees a constant influx of international visitors and foreign dignitaries, and also given earlier this week the CDC urged Americans older than 60 to avoid crowds, as the elderly have been shown to be most vulnerable.
According to The Hill, steps are finally being enacted (but is it too little too late?) to keep crowds away from Congress and staffers:
The House and Senate sergeants-at-ams are also preparing to announce the suspension of all tours in the Capitol in an effort to limit the potential spread of the virus on the hill.
"The two sergeant at arms ... are preparing to announce that they will stop tours of the Capitol due to the coronavirus," a source told The Hill.
And the Associated Press confirms Thursday: "Congress is shutting down the US Capitol building to the public until April 1, along with all House and Senate offices over concerns of the coronavirus spreading."
Both chambers will continue to conduct business, but without a public, in-person audience.
The Democratic-led House will vote Thursday on a novel coronavirus response package that would provide support to families affected by the pandemic, including paid sick leave, free testing and funding increases to food security programs. — AP
It must be remembered that at the start of this month nearly 10% of Iranian lawmakers were confirmed with the coronavirus, and top Iranian officials began dying, showing that everyone is vulnerable — even top leaders in societies who might by and large live apart from the general population.
Meanwhile, on the same day (Wednesday) that Sen. Cantwell's office made the announcement, and before the closure of the Capitol building to tours:
The U.S. Capitol is packed with tourists pic.twitter.com/9bSK8MaURm— Jennifer Haberkorn (@jenhab) March 11, 2020
It's perhaps only a matter of time before all Congress members and their staff begin working from home to contain the spread on the capitol.