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Capitol Hill offices instructed to update pandemic plans, Office of the Attending Physician sets record straight on coronavirus

All-Senate email from OAP and Senate sergeant-at-arms debunks coronavirus rumors and instructs offices to update pandemic plans

Coronaviris outbreak appears on a tv monitor as Speaker  Nancy Pelosi holds her weekly news conference in the Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020.
Coronaviris outbreak appears on a tv monitor as Speaker Nancy Pelosi holds her weekly news conference in the Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A barrage of questions for the Office of the Attending Physician on Capitol Hill about the coronavirus prompted an email to all Senate employees that include two videos of Attending Physician Brian Monahan detailing the origins of the COVID-19 virus and best practices for staying healthy.

Monahan reiterated that the COVID-19 virus is not man-made and that there is no virus activity in the Washington area at this time.

“Rumors and misinformation regarding man-made or intentional release sources of the virus are unfounded,” Monahan said.

In a nearly 13 minute video that is an overview statement from Monahan on the coronavirus situation, he outlined the origins and spread of the illness. Monahan warned of the consequences that are likely when person-to-person transmission begins in the United States.

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“Public health and health care systems may become overloaded with elevated rates of hospitalizations and deaths. Other critical infrastructures such as law enforcement, emergency medical services, and transportation industry may also be affected. Healthcare providers and hospitals may be overwhelmed,” Monahan said.

[Rep. Trone calls for Naloxone training for House members and staff ]

He made clear that there are no medications approved to treat COVID-19 and no vaccine to protect against it.

“Nonpharmaceutical interventions such as social distancing, ill contact avoidance, surface decontamination and handwashing would be the most important response strategy today,” he said.

A second video walks through frequently asked questions about masks, handwashing and other preventative remedies.

Monahan debunks a wide array of false information about protecting against the virus in the “frequently asked questions” video, suggesting that at least some of the wild inquiries were from within the Capitol Hill community.

“There is no evidence from the current outbreak that eating garlic has protected people from the new coronavirus,” and “No, sesame oil does not kill the new coronavirus,” Monahan says in the video.

“No, spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body will not kill viruses that have already entered your body,” he continues.

The email and videos both stress that thorough hand washing with soap and use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer are easy ways to protect against the virus.

“The OAP and the Sergeant at Arms continue to monitor the situation closely and will keep the Senate community apprised of any changes in the Congressional posture,” reads the email.

Member offices and committees were encouraged to update their Continuity of Operations plans, which is supposed to include a section on pandemic planning. While offices likely have more recent information on COOP plans, the last Congressional Research Service report published on the topic was in 2005, focusing on the 2001 anthrax contamination on Capitol Hill, a February 2004 ricin attack and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

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