Congressional doctor warns insurrection may have been superspreader event
January 11, 2021
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Workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) clean an entry to the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021.
Enlarge / Workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) clean an entry to the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021.

The attending physician to Congress on Sunday sent an alert to lawmakers warning them that they may have been exposed to the pandemic coronavirus while huddled in a safe room during last Wednesday’s violent insurrection at the US Capitol by supporters of President Trump.

As Ars has previously reported, there was clear risk of mass disease spread at the insurrection. Mostly maskless rioters not following social distancing recommendations may have spread the virus amongst themselves and to lawmakers as they rallied and stormed the Capitol building. In addition, lawmakers and staff who likewise eschew basic public health guidance added to the risk of a superspreading event as members of Congress hunkered down together during the attack.

In the Sunday email alert sent to all members of Congress, attending physician Brian Monahan focused on the latter risk, writing:

“On Wednesday January 6, many members of the House community were in protective isolation in [a] room located in a large committee hearing space. 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 which room he was talking about, but aides who spoke with the Washington Post confirmed he was referring to a room packed with House members that some had previously described as a “COVID superspreader event.”

In an interview with CBS News shortly after the insurrection, Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) estimated there were 300 to 400 people in the room and that “about half” were maskless. “It’s exactly the kind of situation that we’ve been told by the medical doctors not to be in,” Wild said.

The Post notes that a video, first published by Punchbowl News on Friday, showed Republicans, including Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Michael Cloud (Tex.), Markwayne Mullin (Okla.), and Scott Perry (Pa.), refusing masks offered by Democratic Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (Del.) while in the room. In a tweet Friday, Blunt said she was “disappointed” by her colleagues who refused masks. “My goal, in the midst of what I feared was a superspreader event, was to make the room at least a little safer.”

Amid the insurrection, at least three Republican lawmakers have announced that they have tested positive, including Jake LaTurner (R-Kan.), Rep. Michelle Steel (R-Calif.), and Charles J. “Chuck” Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) Reps. LaTurner and Fleischmann were reportedly not in the room Monahan spoke of in his warning to Congress, according to reporting by the Post.

Monahan advised lawmakers to “continue your usual daily coronavirus risk reduction measures (daily symptom inventory checklist, mask wear, and social distancing). Additionally, individuals should obtain an RT-PCR coronavirus test next week as a precaution.”

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