House issues guidance for staffers amid coronavirus concerns

Guidance to House follows similar advice to Senate staffers

Students from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts wear respiratory masks as they wait for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders to speak to supporters during a rally and march to early vote on Thursday at Winston-Salem State University.  (Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
Students from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts wear respiratory masks as they wait for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders to speak to supporters during a rally and march to early vote on Thursday at Winston-Salem State University. (Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
Posted February 28, 2020 at 2:08pm

House staffers received an email Friday from the sergeant-at-arms, outlining strategies and hygiene tips for preventing the spread of coronavirus and urging offices to make plans for continued operation in the case of widespread infections.

“Your office should consider continuity of operations (COOP) planning in the event of a widespread outbreak. A COOP plan allows your office to consider the actions and resources needed to continue to operate in the event of an emergency,” the email said.

Senate employees received a similar message Thursday.

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House staffers were directed to COOP templates available from the SAA Emergency Management Division.

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House employees were instructed to avoid touching their mouth, nose and eyes and to clean and disinfect objects and surfaces.

The email reiterated what is the most common and accepted guidance for preventing the spread of the virus: washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

The email cites Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that facemasks are not recommended to protect healthy individuals against respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. However, masks are recommended for people exhibiting symptoms of the disease to prevent spreading it to others.

“As a practical matter, if you are showing symptoms of COVID-19, you should not be reporting to work and should seek appropriate medical attention,” it says.

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The email closed with an acknowledgment of the stress and fear staffers may feel in preparation for, during and after an emergency situation and invited employees to use the employee assistance program in place in the House.

“Stress can be particularly difficult for staff who are helping constituents and dealing with their own concerns,” the email reads.