Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state announced Wednesday night that one of her D.C.-based staffers has tested positive for the coronavirus.
The announcement marked the first publicly confirmed case of a congressional staff member being infected with the virus that has infected more than 100,000 people around the globe.
Cantwell is closing her Washington, D.C. office for the rest of this week for a deep cleaning.
“The individual has been in isolation since starting to have symptoms,” the office said in a statement, according to The Washington Post. “On the advice of the Attending Physician, the senator has closed her Washington, D.C. office this week for deep cleaning and staff will be teleworking.”
“The individual who tested positive for COVID-19 has had no known contact with the senator or other members of Congress. The senator is requesting that testing be done on any other staffers who have been in contact with the individual and show symptoms,” the notice said.
The announcement came as leaders of the House and Senate agreed to suspend tours of Capitol Hill, Politico reported.
BREAKING: Congress shutting US Capitol, House and Senate office buildings to public until April 1 in reaction to coronavirus. https://t.co/15buymaDp9
— The Associated Press (@AP) March 12, 2020
“I think it would be prudent at this point to stop the tours until a time when we feel that those can be done in a way that doesn’t affect the health of the tourists at risk,” Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, told reporters.
“There’s some value to projecting confidence, and, but there’s also some value to being smart, prudent and diligent. We are the nerve center of the world. Sometimes you have to act,” Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana said.
Congress was already scheduled to be on recess effective Thursday through March 23.
The virus is most deadly for the elderly, and many lawmakers are over age 70.
— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) March 12, 2020
Older adults have been show to be the most vulnerable to the harshest impacts of the virus, particularly those with existing medical conditions.
The Congressional Research Service reported that in the last Congress, the average age of senators was 61.8 years, while House members averaged slightly younger, at 57.8 years.
Several lawmakers have self-quarantined after coming in proximity at last months Conservative Political Action Conference to an individual tested positive for the virus.
Some members of Congress said the risk of exposure comes with the job.
“Our lifestyle is the exact opposite of a quarantine. We are by nature public animals and in contact with the public, and you know I spent the weekend going to a dozen events — a dozen — and half the time people elbow, fist bump, shake hands,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, who is 75, told Politico. “I’m not scared, I’m healthy, I can deal with it — but I’m in the age group and I take it seriously.”
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, 64, had a quip ready when asked about senators’ chances of getting the virus.
“Somewhere between a football team and a nursing home is where I’d put us,” he said.
“I think most members are in good shape,” Graham added.
“But it does attack older people like myself. But again, it’s a lot like the flu in terms of the way it interacts — without a vaccine.”
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