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Lawmakers may have been exposed to coronavirus in Capitol lockdown

WASHINGTON - Lawmakers who hunkered down together for safety while a pro-Trump mob attacked the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday may have been exposed to someone in the same room who was infected with the coronavirus, according to the Office of the Attending Physician. 

"On Wednesday January 6, many members of the House community were in protective isolation in room located in a large committee hearing space," Brian Monahan, the attending physician to Congress, wrote in an email that was sent to members of Congress on Sunday morning.

"The time in this room was several hours for some and briefer for others. During this time, individuals may have been exposed to another occupant with coronavirus infection."

"Monahan did not specify how large the group of lawmakers in the room was.

Two House aides confirmed to The Washington Post that Monahan was referring to a room where scores of House members were taken during the riot. Video first published by Punchbowl News on Friday showed maskless Republicans - including Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Michael Cloud of Texas, Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania - refusing masks offered by Democratic Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware while in the room.

Monahan's email advised lawmakers who may have been exposed to continue monitoring for symptoms, wearing masks and social distancing. "Additionally, individuals should obtain an RT-PCR coronavirus test next week as a precaution," the email stated.

One House member, Rep. Jake LaTurner, R-Kan., disclosed Thursday that he had received a positive coronavirus test on Wednesday evening. But Pat Adams, a spokesman for LaTurner, said Sunday that the congressman was not among the members who were taken to the lockdown area in question Wednesday afternoon.

Blunt Rochester tweeted Friday that while she was "disappointed in my colleagues who refused to wear a mask, I was encouraged by those who did. My goal, in the midst of what I feared was a super spreader event, was to make the room at least a little safer."

Separately, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., announced Sunday that he had tested positive.

"Today, I learned that I have tested positive for COVID-19 after coming into contact with another infected Member of Congress, with whom I share a residence in D.C.," Fleischmann said in a statement.

He said he has been in quarantine since Wednesday night, when he learned that the other lawmaker tested positive. A spokesman for Fleischmann said the congressman was not in the lockdown area Wednesday.

Members of Congress qualified for priority access to the coronavirus vaccine, and many - but not all - have received at least the first shot of a two-dose regimen. Some congressional staffers have received the coronavirus vaccine as well.

More than two million coronavirus cases have been reported in the United States so far this year, and for the first time, the seven-day average for new deaths has surpassed 3,000 deaths a day, according to a Washington Post analysis. The daily death toll for the first time surpassed 4,000 just one day after Wednesday's insurrection. Experts have warned the storming of the Capitol building could have contributed to the public health crisis as a potential superspreader event.

"There's going to be chains of transmission that come out of that kind of mass gathering," former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb said during an interview on CBS News's "Face the Nation" on Sunday. "The crowd wasn't adhering to what we know are good practices in terms of mask-wearing and other things. I think they deliberately eschewed those things. So, yeah, we're going to see chains of transmission come out of that kind of a gathering, for sure.

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told McClatchy on Friday that "you have to anticipate that this is another surge event."

"Then these individuals all are going in cars and trains and planes going home all across the country right now," Redfield added. "So I do think this is an event that will probably lead to a significant spreading event."

As the incoming Biden administration plans to take over the coronavirus response in days, the president-elect announced plans to expedite the vaccination process by releasing nearly all available doses of the vaccine. The announcement has prompted experts and state leaders to debate whether the approach is the best path forward.

In an interview on CNN on Sunday, Ashish Jha, a physician and dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, backed the idea, and said "we've got to start getting people vaccinated far more quickly."

Some public health experts have expressed concern that it could delay people in getting the second vaccine dose. The two coronavirus vaccines currently authorized for use in the United States require a two-dose regimen to be fully effective.

In an interview Friday on "PBS NewsHour," Paul Offit, a vaccine expert at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and a member of the external advisory committee to the FDA, called Biden's plan a "big bet, and I think an unnecessary bet."

"They're assuming that they're going to be able to mass-produce, mass-distribute, and mass-administer that second dose in a timely manner, where then you're still getting that second dose three or four weeks later, or maybe five weeks later, or six weeks later," Offit said. "What worries me is that it might not be then. It might be two months later, or three months later, or, worse, that some people wouldn't get a vaccine at all."

Last week, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and head of the U.S. pandemic response, talked about the idea of "stretching out" supply without reserving a second dose.

"We don't think it's a good idea," Fauci said. "To stretch out and you don't get your second dose until maybe three or four months, there's no scientific data that proves that. And since we want to maintain our credibility and do things right according to the science, we want to do it exactly the way it was shown in the clinical trial."

Asked by CNN about Fauci's recent remarks, Jha said he agreed that there's "no reason to wait three or four months for the second dose, people need the second dose."

But he said he has no reason to believe manufacturing will slow down or prevent individuals from getting their second shots on time.

"So I don't know that I disagree so much with Dr. Fauci as much as I would put emphasis on getting vaccines out quickly and count on that second dose showing up in plenty of time for people to get vaccinated with their second dose, which everybody needs," Jha said.

 

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