COVID-19 cases keep rising in Capitol complex

123 Legislative Branch employees have tested, or are presumed, positive

The number of COVID-19 infections on Capitol Hill continues to increase among front-line workers.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
The number of COVID-19 infections on Capitol Hill continues to increase among front-line workers. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted October 6, 2020 at 4:48pm

As COVID-19 cases spread through the White House and ruffle the Senate, cases among front-line workers on Capitol Hill continue to rise in the center of American government, which to this day lacks a comprehensive testing regimen for all workers.

There are now 123 Legislative Branch employees or contractors who have tested positive — or are presumed positive — for COVID-19, according to Ashley Phelps, a Republican spokeswoman for the House Administration Committee. This total has increased by 20 since Aug. 28.

The count includes 46 Capitol Police employees, 42 Architect of the Capitol employees and 35 contractors working on the Cannon Building renovation project. These numbers reflect total cases since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

As of Oct. 5, there are 22 Capitol Police employees who are on paid administrative leave.

Last week, COVID-19 engulfed the White House, including President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump. Three Republican senators who were at the Sept. 26 Rose Garden ceremony to introduce Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett have since tested positive for the virus: Mike Lee of Utah, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, the top Republican on House Administration, has made several calls to Zoe Lofgren, the committee chairwoman, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi for a level of testing to be implemented in Congress. Davis himself dealt with COVID-19 this summer and recovered.

A House GOP staffer told CQ Roll Call there should be a comprehensive testing program on Capitol Hill.

“There is no question about it,” the staffer said. “Testing should be mandatory for both members and staff, or anyone in the Capitol complex who is actively working there. Staff are putting in countless hours.”

Further, members are taking constituent meetings and attending fundraisers ahead of the November election, another cause for concern, the aide said.

“We have no idea of who they’re meeting with,” the staffer said of lawmakers going to official and unofficial events. “That presents a real risk for our jobs and that testing is absolutely necessary.”

A Democratic staffer in the House also said there should be more testing on the campus.

“It’s difficult for frontline workers to stay healthy when they have to go into offices and move all over the Capitol complex to do their jobs,” the staffer said in a text. “They can’t do their jobs remotely. I’d argue they’re the hardest working people on the Hill. Capitol has to keep them safe and enforce public health directives, give access to testing, etc.”

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Two high-profile former legislative aides, Kendra Barkoff Lamy and Doug Heye, lent their support to such a testing regime as well, writing in a recent Washington Post op-ed that “[t]he best way to prevent spreading the virus is through mandatory and frequent testing of everyone who enters any Capitol Hill office buildings, including the U.S. Capitol.”

With the pandemic not letting up, flu shots are particularly crucial, but there are delays for members and staffers to get them on the Hill.

The Office of the Attending Physician sent out a notice to all members and staff on Sep. 15 stating that the office would be offering the seasonal influenza vaccine starting Sept. 21, as it has in previous years.

On Oct. 2, Brian P. Monahan, the attending physician, notified lawmakers and staff about a “delay in shipment of the seasonal influenza vaccine.” Further, the notice said, flu clinics would resume the week of Oct. 12.