Congress And COVID-19: Members' Cases And Quarantines
Updated on Nov. 25 at 10 a.m. ET
The coronavirus pandemic continues to upend the daily work of Congress, which has seen a series of outbreaks.
By November, more than 25 members of Congress and at least 150 workers have tested positive, or were presumed so, for the coronavirus. And a Florida member's aide died this summer from COVID-19.
As a result, both chambers of Congress have recessed multiple times throughout the year as the Capitol has largely gone without a widespread testing program.
For its part, the Democrat-controlled House installed emergency proxy voting and remote hearings earlier this year. And in November, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi triggered a broader COVID-19 testing program for Congress following a new requirement for travelers to the Washington, D.C., area.
But the plan to test as many as 2,000 a week still falls woefully short for a Capitol complex that includes more than 530 lawmakers and a workforce of 20,000 or more.
Before traveling to Washington, D.C., for a November session, several House members tested positive, including the oldest member, Alaska Republican Don Young. Others included outgoing Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Cheri Bustos of Illinois and Republican Tim Walberg of Michigan.
A previous outbreak was tied to a September White House Rose Garden ceremony to announce Amy Coney Barrett as President Trump's Supreme Court justice nominee. Trump, first lady Melania Trump and dozens of others in attendance tested positive, including Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.
It was one of several instances forcing a recess for Capitol Hill.
The pandemic has sidelined Congress since its March beginnings, as House and Senate leaders delayed bringing back members for several weeks in light of public health guidelines recommending social distancing.
The Senate returned in May, but the much larger House still stayed mostly away as a result of advice from the attending physician to Congress. That same month, the House approved historic rule changes to allow remote voting and hearings.
The initial rash of cases began March 8, when two Republican lawmakers, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, were the first members of Congress to announce self-quarantines. Both had attended the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., where an attendee at the conference had fallen ill.
The following week, the first two members of Congress said they tested positive for the coronavirus illness. Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida and Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams of Utah both said they developed symptoms after a March 14 vote on a coronavirus relief package.
By this summer, dozens of Capitol workers reported a positive test or were presumed so, and Gary Tibbetts, a longtime staffer for Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida, died from COVID-19 on July 24.
Some lawmakers have taken antibody tests to see if they were previously ill. Among them, Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania both said they tested positive months after experiencing symptoms in the spring.
To stem the flow of new cases, both chambers issued new social distancing guidance. Also, the U.S. Capitol remains closed to public tours and open only to members, staff, press and official business visitors.
In late July, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also issued a new mask mandate after Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, who has often rejected mask protocols, tested positive. Gohmert had attended several hearings a day before testing and returned to the Capitol following a White House screening that caught his infection.
Gohmert's case triggered quarantines for five House members, including Arizona Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva. Days later, Grijalva tested positive, but fully recovered symptom free. Now, members can be forcibly removed by Capitol Police from House hearings and the floor if they are not wearing masks.
This story was originally published on April 15, 2020.
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