An email to House GOP staffers Friday addressed rumors of coronavirus infections within the Capitol Hill community and offered additional guidance to help offices prepare and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Please be cautious when spreading any potential rumors of an outbreak or infected staff, as to not cause unnecessary panic,” instructed the email, issued by House Administration Committee ranking member Rep. Rodney Davis.
The email, obtained by CQ Roll Call from a House aide, stressed there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus and no pending coronavirus tests for anyone currently working on Capitol Hill.
Staff on Capitol Hill have been concerned about the illness reaching their workplace for a few weeks, but the Thursday night announcement of three confirmed COVID-19 cases in Montgomery County, Maryland, where many staffers live, only raised anxiety levels.
The email reiterated guidance on establishing continuity of operations plans that “allow offices to consider the actions and resources needed to continue to operate” in the event of an outbreak.
“Important note: COOP is particularly pertinent to District Office staff,” reads the email. “We advise that offices ensure your district staff are up-to-date on any office policies, as well as make sure district staff have the necessary equipment they need to telework.”
Offices are scrambling to make sure they have the equipment to facilitate telework, including laptops, cell phones and tablets that are able to connect to the House’s network remotely. Training employees, accustomed to working on desktop computers in their offices, will need to learn to use the software and programs necessary to connect from home.
The email signals significant investments were made to prepare the House for a potentially massive expansion of telework for House staffers.
“The [House Chief Administrative Officer] has ordered 1000 laptops that will be imaged and available for purchase through the normal procurement process should your office require new technology,” the email said.
House Administration Committee Republicans said additional information will be sent to GOP chiefs of staff, staff directors and district staff about the process for paying for the additional equipment needed to implement continuity of operations plans, technology assistance and an upcoming meeting of Republican chiefs of staff on coronavirus preparations.
The email alerted staffers to increased frequency of cleaning and sanitizing services by Architect of the Capitol staff, and asked staffers to help in the effort.
“We encourage your office to do your part and maintain good disinfecting practices to keep your office clean and safe for your member, staff, and potential visitors,” it reads.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer all met Wednesday about how to ensure continual operation of Congress as the virus spreads.